Each morning when he wakes and walks to his shower, Mark Rozzi is reminded of a priest from his childhood, and the nightmare that unfolded in the rectory back in 1983.
He was a 13-year-old student and altar boy at Holy Guardian Angels Catholic Church and school in his hometown of Reading, about 65 miles north of Philadelphia, when he was raped in the shower by the Rev. Edward Graff.
Rozzi said he managed to get away and told his parents, who complained to the principal, but Graff was never prosecuted. Instead, like so many other priests accused of abuse, he was transferred to other churches, Rozzi said. Eventually, the priest was arrested in Texas and died while in custody before trial.
Rozzi later discovered that several of his friends had been abused by Graff as well; one struggled for years with mental illness and unemployment until he committed suicide this year, on Good Friday.
“I have seen my friends kill themselves, my friends become alcoholics and drug addicts, and then the church make a mockery of us,” he said.
For Rozzi and other clergy abuse victims, this week’s visit to the United States by Pope Francis presents an opportunity — to remind the world of the pain inflicted by pedophile priests and to hold the church more accountable for their crimes.
Although Francis has moved to prevent and punish clergy abuse, victims say the Roman Catholic Church in the United States continues to fight proposed laws that would allow the prosecution of crimes committed long ago.
Another victim in Philadelphia, John Salveson, said it’s tough for those who survived abuse to enjoy the pope’s impending arrival at the World Meeting of Families.
“It’s a different experience for those who were abused by priests and were not helped by the church,” Salveson, 59, said of the gathering. “You want to just go under your bed and hide.”
Salveson said he wants Francis and other church leaders to address clergy sex abuse during his visit and to wear black ribbons — “to send a message to survivors that we know you exist, we need to do better by you and amid this event of such joy, we acknowledge you.”
For more than a decade, the abuse scandal rocked parishes across the nation, with many dioceses making hefty financial settlements.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed in 2007 to pay more than 500 abuse victims $660 million. Later settlements pushed the archdiocese’s tab to more than $740 million.
Accusations of cover-ups by church officials around the country persist. But in a study released last month by the Public Religion Research Institute, when Americans were asked to share associations with the pope, only 5% were negative, including the clergy abuse scandal.
Former Catholics were five times more likely than current Catholics to mention clergy sex abuse scandals (11% versus 2%).
That could be because the pope has addressed the scandal publicly, promising “zero tolerance” for predatory priests. He recently created an advisory Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which includes two abuse victims, and at the commission’s request, also created a tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up or failing to act in cases of child sex abuse by priests.
SOURCE: MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE
The Los Angeles Times