After decades of silent pain, a victim resolves
to stop running from 'it'
by Dan Rodricks -Baltimore Sun
March 6, 2005
I COUNT at least three epiphanies - sudden and stunning realities
he had ignored, denied or just missed for nearly three decades -
that Bob Russell experienced as he moved firmly into middle age
and finally faced the old demon named Brett.
The first came in June 2001, when Russell, now a force in the Baltimore
chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP),
heard a news report of a schoolteacher who had received a heavy
jail sentence for sexually abusing a student, in either Maryland
or Pennsylvania. Russell does not recall why this case, among the
ugly many that stream in and out of public consciousness, made him
decide to unlock his own secret.
But it did.
"That," Russell says, "was when I decided, 'OK,
enough. What happened to [me] has happened to others, and it has
got to stop. Enough. It was not [my] fault. Stop running from it.
It is not [my] shame. It is the shame of the Roman Catholic Church.'"
For years, Russell had kept his secret "locked in a steel
box with chains around it."
He never told anyone - not his parents, not classmates, not the
woman who became his wife - what had happened in 1973, when he was
a 15-year-old sophomore at Calvert Hall College, the all-boys Catholic
high school in Towson.
Twice, Russell says, a priest named Laurence Brett molested him.
Brett, assigned to chaplaincy and a teaching position at Calvert
Hall in 1969, has been linked in the national press to numerous
allegations of child sexual abuse spanning three decades, from Connecticut
to California, from New Mexico to Maryland. He has never been convicted
of crimes nor even appeared in court as a defendant in civil suits
because Brett has eluded authorities for years. He was last seen
on St. Maarten Island by one of two Hartford Courant reporters who
for their newspaper in 2002 documented allegations against Brett
and profiled him as a serial abuser of boys. He has since disappeared
from his island hideaway.
The Baltimore Archdiocese included Brett in a list released in
2002 of priests accused of misconduct, saying numerous individuals
alleged he sexually abused them in the late 1960s and mid-1970s.
Stephen Kearney, a spokesman for the archdiocese, was quoted by
the Courant as saying, "Larry Brett is a criminal. He's an
Of course, none of this was known to Bob Russell when he had his
He hadn't seen or heard from Brett since 1973, when the priest
suddenly left Calvert Hall, ostensibly to either care for a sick
aunt or be treated for hepatitis, depending on what story you heard
at the time.
The priest, described in the Courant as "a predator blessed
with charm," frequently invited underclassmen into his office
to "rap," Russell says. Brett was regarded as more relaxed,
culturally savvy and irreverent than the Christian Brothers who
ran Calvert Hall, so boys gravitated toward him. He was considered
cool, and getting invited to Larry Brett's office made sophomores
and freshmen feel special.
The problem, Russell realized too late, was this special relationship
carried a price he and other students would pay the rest of their
lives. Russell says guilt and shame do not begin to describe the
"it" that he kept locked inside, after his two sexual
encounters with Brett.
Twenty-eight years later, once he made the decision to stop running
from "it" - to tell his wife, to seek legal counsel, to
seek therapy - Russell desired advice from one of his favorite Calvert
Hall teachers, now a college professor.
When Russell described what had happened to him, the professor
snapped, "Was it Larry Brett?"
I count that as Bob Russell's second epiphany - the realization
that others knew about Brett's sexual appetite for boys. There were
at least two other victims, the former Calvert Hall teacher told
him. "And here I was," Russell says, "living my whole
life as if I had been the only one."
Once the Calvert Hall teacher reported his suspicions to administrators
in 1973, the school gave Brett the boot. But nothing further happened.
The school did not investigate the matter until the 1990s, after
other men, alleged victims of Brett, came forward. Since then, the
school has apologized for not having done more at the time. It says
14 Calvert Hall alumni have identified themselves as Brett victims.
Russell's third epiphany occurred in the fall of 2002, in a hall
at Fordham University in New York. He attended a meeting of Voice
of the Faithful (VOTF), a group formed by Catholic laity in the
wake of the abuse scandal that has rocked the church. In a room
set aside for "survivors" of sexual abuse, Russell fully
realized the extent of the pain caused over the decades by clergy
who had used their special station to exploit children. Photographs
of between 30 and 40 men and women, all victims of abuse, covered
a wall at the meeting, Russell said. All had committed suicide.
"That's when this whole thing became, for me, bigger than
Larry Brett," Russell says. "My own experience suddenly
was dwarfed by the larger issues."
It became apparent that the hierarchy of his church had engaged
in a coverup of predation; it had shuffled priests like Larry Brett
from parish to parish, even state to state, instead of acting to
end the abuse. "And what hit me," says Russell, "was
that I could not turn to my faith for help and support because it
was my faith that was the culprit."
Finally, by getting involved with SNAP and VOTF in Baltimore, Russell
started to get what he wanted. He got a meeting with Cardinal William
H. Keeler, a public apology from Calvert Hall and an effort - though
he believes it has been halfhearted - to locate more Brett victims.
Now, as he steps with this, his first newspaper interview, fully
into the public eye, there is another thing Russell hopes for: more
general awareness of the prevalence of child molestation. "It
is time," he says, "that this dirty staple of our society
become more open as a topic of discussion and that predators feel
the definite fear of severe repercussions once caught, both criminally
and civilly. It is time to put a stop to it. That's what I'm after
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