AUSTIN (KXAN) — He was just a first-grade student at the time. His father had suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital. His mother was trying to juggle her three children and doing the best she could to take care of their family amid their own struggles.
Fearful his parents were already too stressed to be burdened by his issues, the boy turned to a priest for help. After all, he knew he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but a priest was different, right?
The man the boy turned to was supposedly a man of God.
“He set up times to see me separately where he abused me. I didn’t know what was going on because I’m seven and I know this doesn’t feel right, and I know this isn’t right, but who am I going to tell?” He continued, “I thought I was doing the right thing and now I feel like I did something wrong.”
He says the priest didn’t threaten his life, but he believes manipulation was used to ensure he never told anyone about their sexually-inappropriate encounters.
“I understand you differently than other people. This is a special relationship. I’m going to keep this between you and me and you can come to me any time you want. This is between you and me and God,” the victim says his abuser would tell him.
He never told his parents. In fact, he never told anyone about the alleged abuse until he became an adult.
After nearly four decades of burying the traumatic sexual abuse from his childhood that he says went on for about a year, the memories have resurfaced for the Boston native who says he was taught to trust priests more than police officers.
He says after he endured the abuse three times, a school janitor caught the priest in the act and broke it up.
“Soon after that, that janitor left and that priest was gone,” he told KXAN Investigator Brittany Glas. “I don’t really think of it as it happening to me. It happened to this kid who was seven, and that’s how I’m, like, able to live my life.”
It’s the only way the man, who now lives in Austin, can cope with his experience: compartmentalize and disassociate the abuse.
KXAN is concealing the Austin man’s identity because he has accused a priest of sexually abusing him. He is speaking only in shadow because as a father today, his children still do not know about what he says happened to him in the late 1970s at his private Catholic school.
Still, the man said he wants nothing more than to let other possible victims know and understand that they’re not alone.
“If there’s anyone out there, even with a fleeting memory of abuse or they went through something and they’re afraid, know that you did nothing wrong. You need to tell someone. Otherwise, they’ll just keep doing this,” he said.
Texas to release list of accused priests
In preparation for every Catholic diocese in Texas to release a list of members of its clergy — including bishops, priests and deacons — who have been “credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor,” the Austin man tells KXAN News he’s hopeful, but not bracing for massive reform or accountability. The list doesn’t indicate those individuals have been charged or convicted of any crimes.
“I think it’s encouraging that they’re willing to offer up the list, but my gut is it’s a very small list,” he continued. “How do you know they abused kids? And, if you knew that, why are you giving us the list now if it happened in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s?”
He says the Catholic Church needs to be held to a higher standard as it releases these lists on Thursday.
“They need to actually say, ‘We’re going to help you find who these people are. We’re going to admit to everything. We’re going to hire a third party to do the investigation and if there’s anything, we’re going to cough it up and if we have to go under, we have to go under,'” he said.
In October, when Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin announced plans to release names of accused clergy, he said an independent investigator would come in to review the files and instruct them on which should be reported.
“It’s a very important step for us as bishops to be able to say we have heard our people. We want to respond to that need. We want to make sure that we allow, especially the survivors, to have their opportunity to come forward, as well,” Vásquez said.
The bishop said, at the time, the diocese did not know how many names they would have on the list, which is expected to be released by Thursday.
“It has to be thorough and it has to be accurate. We want to make sure that we are accurate with the information we put out,” Vásquez said. “When people come to see their priest, they should feel safe. It is their home. It is a place where they should feel comfort.”
The Austin man KXAN spoke with attended St. Paul School — a small grammar school in Hingham, Massachusetts — in the suburbs of Boston. The school was home to its fair share of predator priests.
Two priests who made national headlines at the center of the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal also spent time at his school — Fathers John Geoghan and John Hanlon.
“Father Geoghan is like the poster boy for pedophile priests in America,” he said. “The number one student got the Father Geoghan Award. I got that award in eighth grade. He was a pedophile.”
Geoghan was a serial rapist who went on trial in 2006, was convicted, and later killed in prison.
Hanlon was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 for raping a 13-year-old boy.
“Hanlon always gave me a very strange feeling,” the Austin man said.
However, he says his abuser was a different priest. But, his emotional scars live on.
“Anytime someone touches my knee, either knee or my shoulders, I literally jump,” he explained. “I look at pictures of myself before I was seven and I look at pictures of myself after seven where I had a huge weight gain and was biting my nails until they bled.”
After going through trauma therapy last summer, the man says he’s still working on recovering from his abuse. He says he’s also tried reporting his abuse to the church, but said he’s received few answers from them in return.
“Around the time that I had my abuse, within a year of that, he’s listed as ‘sick leave,’” he said. “The problem still gets shuffled. If they can shuffle it, they still try and shuffle it.”
We are not releasing the name of the priest the Austin man accused of abuse because he has not been convicted of a crime – as far as we know. In fact, the man says he doesn’t even know where the priest is today or whether he is dead or alive.
He says when he tried to get the records, the school said he was a priest for The Society of African Missions, not with the Archdiocese of Boston. This priest has never shown up on any list there, either.
“I don’t know why anything in Texas would be different than Boston,” he said.
As for the Austin man who spoke with KXAN in confidence about his experience growing up in Boston, he says he wants to advocate for others.
“The only way that someone starts paying attention is they start criminally prosecuting,” he said. “The list should be the beginning.”