Group Helps Victims of Clergy Discuss Past

By Stan Finger
The Wichita Eagle [Wichita KS]
February 4, 2003

Many of the people who gather Tuesday night will be strangers -- but they will be able to identify with each other.

They will share the sense of shame and anger and confusion and distrust that comes from having been abused by priests when they were children.

They'll now have a place where they can talk about it. The Wichita chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, is starting a support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"I hope it gives me a place to go and vent my anger," said Ray Albert, who said he and three brothers were molested in an El Dorado children's home in the late 1950s. "I want to go to somebody who will listen."

Support groups for victims of clergy sexual abuse are springing up all over the country, said David Clohessy, national director for SNAP. Wichita's group is the third to start in the past week alone.

"Victims are finally able to break their silence, end their isolation and begin to learn and heal from one another," Clohessy said.

While support groups are no replacement for professional therapy, he said, "they can help victims cut through some of the self-blame and shame."

The need for a support group became clear to Patterson after she and her husband, Horace, set up a Web site and toll-free number to reach out to other victims of clergy sexual abuse in the months following the suicide of their oldest son in 1999.

Eric Patterson killed himself at the age of 29, months after confiding to his family that he had been molested by their parish priest, the Rev. Robert Larson, when he was a 12-year-old altar boy at the parish in their hometown of Conway Springs.

At least four of Larson's former altar boys have committed suicide. Larson denied molesting Patterson or any of the other suicide victims.

But he was removed from the pulpit and stripped of his title and duties as a priest in 1989, and pleaded guilty in 2001 to four sex crimes involving altar boys and a teenager while he was the pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton in the mid-1980s.

So many people contacted the Pattersons through their hotline -- not just nationally, but locally -- that Janet knew something more should be done.

"We'll never know, unless we get a support group started, how many people have been hurt over the past 20, 30, 40 years," she said. "Support groups are a good way to reach out to people who might be afraid to go to church."

While it's significant that the Catholic bishops in America have acknowledged the abuse problem and taken steps to address it, Patterson said, the work has just begun.

"People who have been harmed by this, their lives aren't reconstructed just because a problem's been acknowledged," she said. "They need support. They need understanding. It doesn't take away their problems with living."

Just knowing the support group is being formed has already helped some victims, Dean Albert said, because they know they aren't alone.

Meeting informally last week, Albert and two of his brothers nodded knowingly as Chris Logue talked about what his life has been like since he was molested as a child -- first by his father and then by his parish priest, the Rev. John Geoghan, in Boston.

Geoghan has been defrocked as a priest and convicted as a pedophile, and 86 people claiming to be victims of Geoghan's are involved in a lawsuit against the Boston Archdiocese.

Looking back, Logue said, his life was one long cry for help -- but nobody was listening. He moved to Wichita to be near a brother. "Innocence and Outrage," a book about his life, has just been published.

"I'm not capable of working," said Logue, now 46. "I can't stay emotionally stable long enough to keep a job. The roller coaster ride is unbelievable."

"All my life," Ray Albert ventured, "I never trusted anybody."

"I still don't," Logue responded.

What Logue suffered is worse than what he went through, Gene Albert suggested.

Logue chuckled wryly. Victims often say that somebody else had it worse than they did, he said. They claim to be doing OK: "I just don't sleep nights. I can't eat right. I can't hold relationships. But I'm doing all right."

Logue said he perseveres in the hope that getting the word out about clergy sexual abuse and pedophilia will help save other children from molesters.

But he knows the price he has paid: "I haven't had a moment's peace in my life."

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