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
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
So do the parents, when they try to read the past like tea leaves,
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
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
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
"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
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
Billy says he has cut out the middlemen: He speaks straight to
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
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'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
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,"
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
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
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
"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.
Clinton Hagenbach moved from parish to parish in the L.A.
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,
Jan. 13, 1966: Assistant pastor, Holy Innocents Catholic
Church, Long Beach
Sept. 24, 1968: Assistant pastor, Holy Trinity Catholic Church,
March 8, 1973: Associate pastor, Holy Family Catholic Church,
Jan. 7, 1974: Associate pastor, St. Teresa of Avila Catholic
Church, Los Angeles
Nov. 6, 1978: Associate pastor, Holy Spirit Catholic Church,
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
Dec. 9, 1987: Died in Los Angeles
Source: Los Angeles Archdiocese
Los Angeles Times