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Priest abuse victims detail lifetime of trauma and broken trust

It's been 70 years since Robert says he was sexually abused by a priest. And in the decades since, his wife ...

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 10:57 AM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 10:57 AM

It's been 70 years since Robert says he was sexually abused by a priest. And in the decades since, his wife and family suffered every day.

"I couldn't show any affection with my wife," said Robert, now 83. "My children, I couldn't hold or hug."

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This is the kind of lifelong trauma endured by hundreds of victims at the hands of Pennsylvania priests.

In a scathing, 887-page report, a grand jury said more than 300 "predator priests" have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.

"We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands," the grand jury report says.

The report investigates clergy sexual abuse dating back to 1947 in six Pennsylvania dioceses.

Robert's case was one of the earliest. It took place when he was about 13 years old, back when Harry S. Truman was President. That's what made it especially difficult to tell anyone.

"Who would have believed me? (That) a priest, in 1948 or '47, would abuse you or do that?" Robert said.

"No one ever heard of such a thing because they covered it up."

Robert said he believes he was preyed upon because he didn't have a father -- something his abuser could take advantage of.

"They targeted me because I was fatherless," he said.

Robert shared his story in a video shown at a news conference Tuesday announcing the grand jury's report.

The investigation revealed many other horror stories, including:

-- A case in which one priest fondled and masturbated a young teenage boy "under the pretext of showing the victim how to check for cancer."

-- An HIV-positive priest who abused children for years before going to prison.

-- A priest who allegedly abused several boys but was still given a recommendation to work at Disney World.

"As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, chair of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, in a statement.

The Vatican declined to comment on the grand jury's findings.

Mike McDonnell, a victim who appeared Thursday on CNN's "New Day," said he loved going to church with his parents but was abused by two priests when he was 11 years old. It took him decades to face the truth about what happened.

The abuse affected his marriages, caused substance abuse and destroyed his belief in the Catholic Church, said McDonnell, who publicly has accused and sued two priests in the Diocese of Philadelphia, which was not covered by the latest grand jury report. One of those accused priests was defrocked, while the other was removed from public ministry, diocesan records show.

"They stole the most sacred thing I had, and that was my Catholic Church," he said.

McDonnell said he wasn't not surprised the Vatican hasn't responded.

"This is Roman Catholic Church, playbook page 82. This is what they do -- they hide, they are deceitful in what they do. It is self-seeking," he said. "And they're going to spin every story."

Carolyn, another victim who spoke in the grand jury video, said she first met her abuser when she was about 18 months old.

"I was in my diaper, and I ran out, and ran right to him," Carolyn said, choking back tears.

As she got older, "he would always have his hands on me," said the woman, now 37.

And whenever she hears the word "God," Carolyn said, flashbacks of abuse keep coming back.

"The word 'God' makes me think of him," she said. "I just feel like my whole life has been a lie."

Even though Carolyn's alleged abuse happened decades after Robert's, she said it was still incredibly difficult to speak up.

"It's very lonely, especially when it's your word against God's," she said.

But that loneliness is subsiding after the grand jury's report.

"I think this report's going to help people who don't have a family, because they're going to know that there's a lot of people out there now that believe them and are behind them," she said.

And although Robert's been waiting 70 years for this kind of vindication, he said he knew it would happen.

"I just was always saying, 'They're not going to beat me.'"

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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