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Abuse Victims Still Suffer Decades Later (Part II)

On his "mission to get better," Billy said, the biggest hurdle was to let go of blame, to accept that as a boy up against a priest, he was powerless.

"I always say that for him to abuse me, all he had to do was get me up to his room, the game's over," he said.

The settlement helped him too, he says, but not for the reason people assume. "The money — it's very, very hard to even say it and think that people will believe it, but I can't worry about it. The money doesn't mean jack," he said. "It's the fact that I have something tangible in my hands and the fact that I looked in Mahony's eyes and he knew I wasn't messing around."

Now, he says, he has achieved a modicum of peace, and obsession with the priest and church no longer drives his daily life.

The 14 men in the lawsuits have received no such satisfaction. They may never get it. And even after countless hours of therapy, some still beat themselves up for being victims, for not fighting back.

Over and over again, they push rewind, playing over possibilities. They think about how they might have saved the day. They think about others who also failed to be heroes. The different pastors who saw the boys stomp up and down the rectory stairs, who heard the clank of the hallway refrigerators as they fetched beer. The housekeeper who saw them too, who cleaned Hagenbach's room, who must have known about the nudie glasses. They wonder when the church first heard about Hagenbach and if they'll ever be told.

Their heads are full of trails to chase. They remember the priest being moved from parishes midweek, without enough time for goodbye parties. They remember the strict pastor whom Hagenbach seemed to hate, who warned him sternly: No boys in the rectory. They try to sew these scraps together into something substantial. They often fail.

So do the parents, when they try to read the past like tea leaves, for signs.

Barbara Sanchez said she drove a carpool of altar boys, but they never said anything. And when the priest, riding his motorcycle, was hit by a car and rushed to the hospital, boys rushed there too. She saw it. "I mean it was a waiting room of kids," she said. So, too, when she took the priest into her home to recuperate, even though he was no longer assigned to her parish.

"It wasn't that I had the burden of taking care of him. No. It was amazing how the boys, they all did it. They all wanted to do it. It was amazing."

The things they should have done, the things they should have seen, these are the pebbles these people can never seem to shake out of their shoes.

One day, long into his own search for answers, Billy thought to question his and Steve's youngest brother, a man of few words. The littlest Sanchez had been so small when Hagenbach was in their lives. But anything was possible. Months later, his little brother told him that something had happened when the priest was staying at the Sanchez house. When Barbara Sanchez went shopping, Hagenbach preyed on a 5-year-old.

*

So how many more are out there that we don't know about? And what is the church doing?" Barbara Sanchez asks. She says the question keeps her up nights.

After the news from Boston broke and before he told a soul his secret, Cisco had a similar fear, for children. Hoping to help stop future abuse, he wrote a letter to "Esteemed Cardinal" Mahony that told a secret he said he'd kept for 18 years for fear that "God would punish me for talking."

"After Mass and greeting the congregation, Father Hagenbach would return to his room, where I would be watching television and eating chocolates. He would sit next to me and begin to kiss me on my lips," Cisco wrote, beginning a graphic description of the abuse.

He said he had forgiven Hagenbach. Then he made his demands. He asked the cardinal to publish the names of accused priests. He asked him to give those names to law enforcement. He also asked that abusers be defrocked.

"I implore you for the sake of God, his Holy Church on earth and the lives of innocent children all over the world, do something NOW!" he wrote before signing "Yours in Christ" above his name.

The church's response was dated the day before the cardinal met with Billy. It was not particularly personal. It was not from Mahony. And, although it expressed "deep sorrow," it did not hold the church responsible for Cisco's suffering.

In fact, the gist of the letter from Msgr. Craig A. Cox, then the archdiocese's vicar for clergy, was that the church had not received a complaint about Hagenbach until 2001 [from Billy], and that because the priest was dead, he was beyond punishment.

"I am grateful that you have also come forward, so that we can know the truth and learn from it," he wrote.

As for publishing names, Cox said the church had reason not to, in part to help the police do their job without publicity.

Cisco had been waiting expectantly.

"After I got that letter, I was like, these people aren't going to help me. They could care less," he said. "All we ever wanted from Mahony was who, what, when, where and why, not how much. It was never a question of how much."

*

Steve's wife had converted to Catholicism. Now neither she nor Steve believes.

Billy says he has cut out the middlemen: He speaks straight to God.

It hurts to leave the faith you grew up with, but most of the men and their loved ones have done so.

They blame the church's attitude.

Two months after she said she didn't believe his story, Cisco's mother went to him, weeping, begging forgiveness. But she was never the same after. She was wracked not just with guilt but with loathing for the church she had once loved.

One day, she joined a protest inside the cathedral. The once-pious Mariana Malo went to the altar, as if to take Communion. Mahony offered her the Eucharist, she said. "I said, 'No, you are the devil,' in front of everybody. In front of everybody. And the face is so white," Mariana Malo said of the cardinal's shocked expression.

She is now heavily medicated because she is frequently suicidal.

Until recently, Jimmy's wife taught Catholic doctrine to schoolchildren. His children were being raised Catholic. He gave the church money.

"And this thing is just simmering underneath the surface waiting to explode," he said, "and then it comes out, and then the way they treat us — or don't treat us. There can't be a God. There can't be a church. None of this exists anymore."

Holidays hurt, he said. Christmas is history. He tries to get his family to say "Happy Festivus!" It's almost funny, except it isn't.

"It's difficult because all those songs that I used to love singing, all those … Christian songs. I catch myself, a Christian tune going through my head, I go, 'Oh, I can't sing that song, got to find another one.' That's how much it stresses me out and bothers me," he said.

When Jimmy told his wife about Hagenbach, she wasn't exactly surprised. The story he told her helped explain why he had been an angry man for so long. But knowing didn't work miracles. She still feels worn down and spent. He still storms. Once, he said, he fumed for days because she spent a few dollars on a new ice cream scoop.

For the men, this is the heartbreak: They now know what's wrong with them, they know why they act the way they do, but they can't suddenly become better for their families.

"I mean, I get angry, I get angry often because I want to know what life would have been like without this," Jimmy said.

*

The men try to fill the vacuum left by the church they say left them behind.

Some have taken upon themselves what they see as the church's duty.

Steve has contacted all seven of Hagenbach's parishes, asking for permission to speak to the congregations. He and other Hagenbach men have told their stories at the three that would have them.

The church's lawyer says such sessions don't really find victims of decades-old abuse. "You're just stirring up the parish," Hennigan said.

When the men hear of a boyhood friend who has had a lot of problems, their antennae go up. They were right about the Holy Trinity altar boy who ended up in prison. They're pretty sure they're right about a man last seen living on the streets of Glendale. They're looking for him.

They never stop doing what they say the church never started doing.

Still, it's lonely. The priest is dead. The lawsuits, now in mediation, move like molasses. The men's stories could well end up being told only in closed chambers. And in Los Angeles, there is none of the public outcry there was in Boston, not even from fellow Catholics.

Last spring, Cisco went to a party given by an old St. Joseph classmate. He took his pregnant wife and his daughter Isabela, a toddler. But people ignored the Malo family.

"I felt like I had AIDS because no one would talk to me," said Cisco, adding, "I was like, I don't need the church. I don't need this town. I don't need any of you."

Cisco's therapist has told him he can't run away. Still, he said, "If I wouldn't have said anything, my family unit still would have been together, my friends still would have been together."

After he told them, Cisco's parents sold their house in Hawthorne, home to a church they never wanted to see again. They headed to a suburban-style subdivision in the desert, where tumbleweeds somersault down the roads, some of which are still sand. They had no past there. They wanted to start new.

Last summer, their son tried the same thing, selling his house in Hawthorne to move to Texas. He said he hoped he'd be happier there, with no "triggers." It's not so easy. In Hesperia, far from all she knows, his mother hallucinates. She sees the priest molest her son, in daylight, in her new living room.

Where do you put all the outrage?

The men frequently talk about going to Hagenbach's grave. One says he'll bring a sledgehammer, another a shovel to dig him up. But that's just talk.

Even though he became archbishop only two years before Hagenbach died, a lot of the men and their family members have funneled their anger toward Mahony — because of the present, not the past. For Bill Sanchez Sr., who has taught at Loyola High School for 45 years, the way the cardinal settled with only one son is unforgivable.

"Of course I hate the man. I'm not capable of hate, but I hate him. For him, I make an exception…. And every time I see him out there with his little smirk and, you know, phony hony Mahony baloney, you just don't know what that does to me," he said.

*

This is how it goes in the Sanchez family now: Bill Sanchez Sr. sneaks around his eldest sons. When he plays golf with Billy, he doesn't necessarily tell Steve. He doesn't want to hurt feelings. One day, he'd like to play golf with all three sons at once.

But right now Steve's two sisters support him. The youngest son sticks with Billy, even though, like Steve, he has filed a lawsuit.

Their parents are stuck in the middle.

Bill Sanchez Sr. and Barbara Sanchez divorced years ago, when their youngest was in grade school. The split had nothing to do with the priest. They didn't know then. After the divorce, the family still managed to act like one when it counted, coming together to celebrate the big holidays like Christmas.

Now that's over — because of the priest, because of the church, because of the settlement.

"Are holidays important to him? Are nieces and nephews important to him?" Barbara Sanchez asks of the cardinal, adding, "He probably doesn't understand the seriousness of it, what it's done to the family."

She worries about Steve, that he spends too much time protesting outside the cathedral.

"He's Mr. Good Guy taking care of others. How much focus is he doing on himself? I don't know," she said.

Her heart breaks for her youngest son — and for Steve and Billy.

Maybe their rift is about the money. Maybe it isn't really. Maybe whatever chance the Sanchez brothers had to be close ended when the boys stepped into the priest's waiting car.

Billy divides his life in two — before and after Hagenbach. Before ended in fourth grade. So did being a good big brother to Steve:

"I protected him before Hagenbach. I had good grades. I kissed my mom before I'd go to school."

After Hagenbach, life was different, Billy said, as tears slid down his cheeks.

*

Priest's Career

Clinton Hagenbach moved from parish to parish in the L.A. Archdiocese.

Nov. 15, 1928: Born in Sacramento

1955-61: Attended St. John's Seminary in Camarillo

April 25, 1961: Ordained

May 10, 1961: Priest, St. Cyril of Jerusalem Catholic Church, Encino

Jan. 13, 1966: Assistant pastor, Holy Innocents Catholic Church, Long Beach

Sept. 24, 1968: Assistant pastor, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Los Angeles

March 8, 1973: Associate pastor, Holy Family Catholic Church, Artesia

Jan. 7, 1974: Associate pastor, St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, Los Angeles

Nov. 6, 1978: Associate pastor, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Los Angeles

July 1, 1981: Chaplain, Lanterman Hospital, Pomona

Oct. 8, 1984: Pastor, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Hawthorne

April 30, 1987: Seriously ill at Glendale Memorial Hospital

Oct. 14, 1987: Moved to Nazareth House, a home for sick and elderly priests

Dec. 9, 1987: Died in Los Angeles

Source: Los Angeles Archdiocese

Los Angeles Times

 

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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