The Truth, and My Voice
by Survivor and Activist Cynthia Desrosiers,
I have come to see that the decision to file a lawsuit in a sexual
abuse case is as individual a decision as the circumstances of
each incident of abuse are unique. For me, going the legal route
was more about having the truth known to protect other children
than anything else. The law did not allow me to file any criminal
suit, but I could file a civil suit. As you read this, you may
wonder why I went through with it? It is a legitimate question.
For me, I needed to resolve issues within myself and to know that
I did all I could possibly do to raise awareness about clergy
abuse and to tell my truth. Being silent had allowed my perpetrator
to continue to abuse for many years. Now that I had remembered
everything and was dealing with it, I had to speak out.
was just 4 & 5 years old when Fr.
Robert Kelley abused me repeatedly --sexually, emotionally
and physically. I repressed the memories until I was 29, when
my daughter was that very age. Notre Dame Church in Southbridge,
MA, of the Worcester Diocese, was where my family went to worship
and where Fr. Kelley was sent for his first assignment in 1968.
He had gone through the seminary in Canada and often would volunteer
at orphanages. The reports from his personnel file were glowing
of his ability to raise money and get parish participation at
its highest levels. He was commended for his involvement with
families in the parish. What was not documented was his urge to
sexually abuse children, at least not in early years of his career.
There was no public knowledge of his misconduct until his abuse
of a teenage girl, who courageously brought charges against him.
He plead guilty to gross sexual assault of a minor and was imprisoned
for seven years. He was denied parole each time he was up for
it- thanks to letters written by myself and other victims and
back now, I can see that I had absolutely no knowledge of the
legal process, how much it would take out of me, how consuming
it would be, nor how rewarding and disappointing it could be.
It is really quite an emotional roller coaster. I began my suit
in 1994 and just recently, in 1999, received two rulings that
basically ended it. The Catholic Church's Worcester Diocese is
very good at spending money on lawyers who file every possible
motion imaginable to hide the truth and muddy the waters, rather
than helping victims with therapy costs. It was all legal, but
was it ethical?
brought suit against Fr. Kelley, the Bishop and the Diocese. Fr.
Kelley never defended himself; thus I received a default judgment
against him. I had to testify before a Judge to assess damages.
Taking the stand and telling the truth was incredibly empowering
and healing. Judge Toomey of the Worcester Superior Court, awarded
me $500,000 plus medical costs in damages, which meant that he
believed me and that he felt Fr. Kelley should be held accountable
for his actions. To date, I have not seen a dime of that judgment.
my perpetrator, three times over these five years (once in jail,
twice when he was free), has also been healing. In my memories,
I was still 4 years old and powerless. What I gained from facing
him was that he no longer had control over me. He could no longer
hurt me and no matter how he justified his "special love" for
his victims or how much he denied having abused me, he was powerless
over me now. Fr. Kelley was the one who had to sit and answer
uncomfortable questions about his actions. I was holding him accountable
and that felt great. It was frightening at first and I often had
to leave the room, but most of all, it was extremely validating.
attended almost all the hearings and depositions in my case. There
have been too many to count, but I would estimate there have been
at least 12 depositions and 5 hearings. An example of my experience
is day two of my three days of being deposed by Atty. Joanne Goulka
for the Diocese. She was not my ally and I knew that going into
it. I had seen her tactics while sitting through my Grandmother
and Mothers depositions. Even so, I had no idea how cruel she
would be. I preface this instance with the fact that during my
lawsuit my personal journals and my therapy records had been produced
as part of discovery. That meant that all my innermost thoughts
about my abuse, my recovery, my therapy-all of it, was there for
them to scrutinize. I had written about how seeing nuns and priests
in their habits had bothered me and acted as a trigger for me.
I had also mentioned that I had vivid memories of my perpetrator's
cross dangling over my face as he raped me.
this information, Atty. Goulka showed up in a black suit with
a white collared shirt-just like a nun's habit. Hanging around
her neck was a four-inch cross of garnets. During one of the breaks,
I was in the restroom wiping my tears and the court reporter was
in there. She told me that I was doing good and that she didn't
see how I could do it. Thinking that she was being friendly enough
to talk to, I asked her if this attorney ever had worn this cross
or outfit before? She responded, "I have done many depositions
here and she has never worn either before." Also, that same day,
Atty. Goulka asked me if Fr. Kelley was the only one I had ever
had oral sex with? I took offense to the way she asked that and
repeated, "I did not say I had oral sex with him- I said he forced
me to perform oral sex!" There is quite a difference. Her questions
pretty much went like that the whole day, but looking back, her
actions made me more determined, stronger and kept me quite focused.
I was not going to let the Church's tactics ruin me.
that deposition and to prepare for the initial demand package,
I had to re-live each and every account of abuse in great detail.
During the deposition, I was asked to draw each room that my abuse
took place in at Notre Dame Parish. These were by far the most
draining experiences throughout the legal process. I was incredibly
fortunate to have an extremely supportive husband and immediate
family. My husband attended almost all the depositions. My therapist,
even after hours, talked to me and supported my needs by telephone.
Along with them, I had very supportive friends who listened to
my anxiety beforehand and my tears afterward. Even my team of
Attorneys and their staff were, for the most part, compassionate
and kind. Had I not had that type of unwavering support- things
would probably had been quite different for me.
suit against the Bishop and Diocese ended in disappointment for
me. I had not been able to gather enough evidence of their knowledge
of Fr. Kelley's misconduct prior to my abuse in 1968. Pedophiles
were not being watched at that time and the Catholic Church did
not evaluate candidates for the priesthood on this issue. I am
truly not sure if they actually do now, regardless of whether
or not they now have policies in place. There was a document that
was never given to me as part of Fr. Kelley's personnel file and
was only discovered while I was reviewing the deposition of another
victim. The missing document included a question on an evaluation
form from Fr. Kelley's seminary years, which I felt raised definite
suspicion about how much the Church knew or should have known
before he was actually ordained.
filed Sanctions against the Church because of this blatant omission.
As a result, Judge Toomey ordered the Church to go back into their
personnel files again and this time, to provide me with a complete
file. He also ordered the Diocese to pay for the re-deposing of
any and all witnesses that I had previously deposed. Unfortunately,
during this time two of the key witnesses had died. After the
Court Order, the lawyers gave me additional documents, which revealed
the names of other victims that I had had no previous knowledge
of! When I contacted them, they were unwilling to talk, and one
of the lawyers representing them suddenly "lost" his client's
files. I had to respect their decision to stay silent, even though
I strongly feel it only perpetuates the problem. After all this,
however, a Worcester Superior Court judge ruled that I did not
have enough evidence to prove my claim against the Bishop and
I feel best about, is that I did not allow the Catholic Church
to silence me. I have been interviewed numerous times. I have
been on TV and I have spoken out at rallies. I have testified
twice before Maine lawmakers and have raised awareness about clergy
abuse tenfold. I witnessed, with my children by my side, Gov.
Angus King of Maine, sign into law a bill that would require clergy
to be mandate reporters. I have been active on committees to have
stronger harassment policies in my children's schools. I also
now sit on the Board of an area Rape Crisis. I believe I will
never stop being an advocate for children and speaking out on
issues of sexual assault. Each time I speak out, I free myself
of the pain and silence that once held me a prisoner of Fr. Kelley's
Catholic Church has never once apologized to me for any part they
played in my abuse or for the re-victimization I feel I endured
at the hands of their attorneys. Fr. Kelley never admitted his
actions and is a free, registered sex offender in Mass. I take
comfort in knowing that when this is all done, each month he will
be forced to send a check to my Attorney and thus, will be reminded
that I did not let him get away with abusing me and that the truth
is out. In the end, I have something neither the Church nor Fr.
Robert Kelley have -- THE TRUTH and MY VOICE, and I can live with
Cynthia Desrosiers, Survivor & Activist
Augusta, Maine - June 3, 1999