SNAP Connecticut

Victims talk about priest sex abuse
Norwalk SNAP members tell of lost innocence

Connecticut Post
Published on 9/26/2004

Joe Monte, 47, of Bridgeport, said Saturday that the sexual abuse he suffered at a Catholic boarding school in Boston scarred him for life.

"They're somehow stuck in childhood, a lot of them, in one capacity or another," Monte said of sexual abuse victims. "I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up."

During a lunch break at the first meeting of the Connecticut chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Monte said the director of the former Cushing Hall Academy would climb into bed with Monte and cover his mouth while he abused him.

"It was not an every night occurrence. It was very sporadic," Monte said. He was 12 years old at the time.

Monte said he later became a runaway, ward of the state and an alcoholic because of his struggle to come to terms with the abuse.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and SNAP's keynote speaker, said sexual abuse by priests "has an impact on [the victim] that is far-reaching and can perhaps extend throughout their whole life."

Priests who abuse children not only rape their bodies, but also rape their souls, taking away their religion and spirituality, Doyle said.

Victims of sexual abuse by priests, a scandal that has rocked the Catholic church, met in Norwalk Community College Saturday to support each other and to discover the progress made in their and their allies' attempts to hold the Catholic church accountable.

It was the first meeting of SNAP's Connecticut chapter, which formed eight months ago.

Landa Mauriello-Vernon, director of SNAP CT, said the organization exists to "reach out to victims suffering in silence" and to "call for accountability."

On the legal front, Doyle said the Catholic church was on the losing side of two important court decisions in California.

One said the church, as an institution, can be held liable for what its members do; the other said the separation of church and state did not apply to Archdiocese of Los Angeles files sought by prosecutors, Doyle said.

On the social front, Doyle said the deference given to priests, who are viewed as morally above the laity in the Catholic religion, was evaporating. Doyle contended that the laity's deference to priests enabled the Catholic church to bury allegations of abuse.

"We're being liberated from the chains of this control," Doyle said. "This is the 21st century. The age of monarchies is gone. You can't tell people 'Jump,' and they'll ask 'How high?' on the way up."

"The most important person in the church is not the pope, bishops or cardinals, but the one who's most hurting and most in need of compassion," he said. "This time around, the institutional church is not in control."

Doyle said he had not lost his faith, but its source was "no longer institutions and power holders."

"It's Christ," Doyle said. "Eliminate the middle man. You get a much better result."

Doyle said "a vast amount of scholarly research" was still going on to discover why priests sexually abused children, but the Catholic church was "unfortunately the one entity not involved."

The mandatory celibacy of priests was not part of any sacramental rites and seemed to have "a profound effect on the stability and emotional maturity of clerics," Doyle said.

Though abuse by priests came to the forefront 20 years ago, Doyle said it's been taking place much longer. He said the Council of Elvira in Spain in the year 309 passed a law that forbid priests from sexually abusing boys.

Sexual abuse by priests was more than a crisis, Doyle said.

"This is an era," he said. "My hope, nave as it is, is that the church will emerge stronger, more pure, much more compassionate and capable of healing."

Monte said he came forward with his allegations of abuse in 1994 around the time that Frank Fitzpatrick Jr. was pushing authorities to investigate the Rev. James Porter of Falls River, Mass.

Monte said his abuser was put on administrative leave for two years and had retired by the time another victim came forward eight years later.

A woman who did not identify herself in SNAP's meeting spoke of the shame she felt after being abused by a priest, but said she now knew the abuse "was not my sin."

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Last Updated: October 26, 2005