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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Effects of Abuse
By Jonathan Finer - Washington Post Staff Writer
BOSTON -- When Phil Cogswell heard that a fellow victim of clergy sexual abuse had died suddenly last week, the voices in his head began piping up again.
More than 37 years after he was molested in a parish cloakroom by the Rev. John J. Geoghan -- and five months after receiving his share of a record $85 million settlement with this city's Catholic archdiocese -- Cogswell said he is still haunted by the words of two church officials who warned him that if he told anyone, "we know people at cemeteries who will make a body disappear, no questions asked."
Away from the glare of a spotlight that for two years tracked their every move as the abuse crisis exploded here and spread throughout the country, many victims are struggling with old and new demons as they try to get on with their lives.
Fresh wounds emerge with every new development, such as Friday's publication of a pair of national studies on the scope of the abuse crisis, abuse experts and several victims said in recent interviews.
The struggle for a legal settlement has consumed many victims. Now that it has been reached, there is a void, and victims said a new chapter has been opened in their ordeal.
"The push for a settlement put a lot of people in an emotional limbo. They focused on that, and only that, and they felt like they couldn't move forward in their own healing process," said Anne Hagan Webb, a psychologist in Wellesley, Mass., who treats several abuse victims. "For some, this will be a far more difficult phase."
Patrick McSorley, like Cogswell, was among the more than 100 alleged victims of Geoghan, a defrocked priest who was killed by a fellow inmate in a Massachusetts prison in August. Last Monday, McSorley was found dead in a friend's Boston apartment.
Telegenic and outspoken, McSorley, who was 29, became one of the most visible victims of the scandal that led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the head of Boston's archdiocese, in 2002. The cause of his death has not been determined. McSorley had openly struggled with drug addiction and depression and in June was found face down and on the verge of drowning in the Neponset River, on Boston's southern outskirts. He recovered and denied trying to take his own life, saying, "Suicide is not the way out."
"He was, in a way, instrumental in getting so many of us to come forward," said Bernie McDaid, who made international headlines in 2002 by traveling to Rome with two other victims to tell the story of their abuse to Vatican officials.
Heavily stressed, McDaid separated from his wife as settlement talks heated up over the summer, and the house-painting business he had run for 20 years began to founder. "It took a toll," he said. "I was so public in this thing, that now I can't have a conversation with anybody without them bringing it up. I want to move forward, but so far it has been hard."
Cogswell said he has tried to lie low, sometimes unsuccessfully. When he deposited his settlement check in a bank just after Christmas, he said, the teller's eyes dropped to the floor when she recognized his name from local newspaper stories on the abuse crisis.
He stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a while because he could not sit through the Lord's Prayer at the end. He still frequents an abuse survivors support group, he said, but the numbers have dwindled from more than 30 at meetings last summer to five or six.
"There's been a whole lot more solitude since the settlement wrapped up. I feel more vulnerable now than ever," said Cogswell, 48. He and other victims said they are still angry that many accused priests are walking the streets and that church officials, who shifted abusive clerics from parish to parish, were not sufficiently held accountable in the eyes of many critics. On Sunday, about 100 abuse victims and others marched on Boston's Statehouse, calling for the formation of a clergy abuse task force.
Several victims cited the arbitration process in October and November that determined the amount of their financial award as the most excruciating moment of their struggle. In two-hour blocks, they made their case to a panel, which allocated payouts ranging from $80,000 to more than $300,000.
"That set some of them back years," said Webb, who was herself abused by a priest as a child in Providence, R.I. "Many brought their spouses, who gave painful testimony about the damage to their families."
Most victims contacted for this story said they were disappointed in their awards. "They look at the check and say, 'Is this what my life is worth?' For some it felt like blood money or prostitution money," Webb said.
After receiving his check just before Christmas, John Harris, an abuse victim from Norwood, Mass., said he was so frustrated he put it in a lock box in his home for weeks before depositing it. Harris, who attempted suicide in 1999, was one of a handful of victims to attend McSorley's wake on Thursday. He skipped the Friday funeral, which was in a Milton, Mass., church. "I couldn't set foot in there," he said.
After the funeral, which was attended by several abuse victims, McSorley's attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, said, "It's not uncommon for victims to feel pain after a settlement because the validation . . . does not fill the emotional and spiritual void." Garabedian has helped negotiate two settlements with the Boston archdiocese.
Two days after McSorley's death, a high school principal in Alaska who had allegedly been abused by a priest from Boston died in what news reports said was "an apparent suicide." In recent years, suicides by clergy abuse victims have been reported in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas and other states.
Webb said the risks grow when victims lack adequate therapy and support. Under the terms of the settlement, the church is providing counseling to about 400 victims, said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese and Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who replaced Law last summer and is credited with jump-starting the deadlocked negotiations. But some have complained that such services should be available more frequently and outside the church structure.
"The Archdiocese of Boston remains committed to assisting survivors and their families in their efforts to find healing in their lives," Coyne said in an e-mail message. "We all understand that there is so much more that needs to be done for all those innocent people who were so badly hurt by the actions of priests."
"They have a lot of hard work ahead of them," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a victim of the first abusive priest to be exposed in the region, the Rev. James R. Porter, in Fall River, Mass. One of 68 people who settled with the diocese there for $5 million in 1992, Fitzpatrick went on to found a victims organization called Survivor Connections, which has about 4,000 members across the country.
He said one of the most difficult adjustments facing him and others occurs when new issues capture the public's attention; victims sometimes long for attention. "You get used to people telling you that what you are doing is good and that you are brave," he said. "But then they move on to something else, and you can't."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests