Pennsylvania report prompts more priest abuse victims to come forward

John 'Tim' McGuire takes a cigarette break outside Spark Makerspace in New London on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. He says at age 8 he wanted to be an altar boy, then his priest at the time, the late Rev. James Curry, started sexually abusing him at the now defunct St. Joseph's Church in Noank. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
John "Tim" McGuire takes a cigarette break outside Spark Makerspace in New London on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. He says at age 8 he wanted to be an altar boy, then his priest at the time, the late Rev. James Curry, started sexually abusing him at the now defunct St. Joseph's Church in Noank. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

When he was 8 years old, John T. McGuire wanted to be an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Church in Noank.

His brothers and friends were altar boys. He begged the church’s pastor, the late Rev. James Curry, to make him an altar boy but he kept being passed over. At home he was being raised by a single mother and grandparents who worshipped Curry.

Then, on four occasions, McGuire said Curry took him into the room next to the altar, where the priest undressed the boy and they fondled each other’s genitals.

McGuire said he remembers closing his eyes and being so ashamed because he was aroused. Afterwards, McGuire said he had to confess to Curry that he tempted the priest.

“He tricked me into believing this is what I had to do to be an altar boy," McGuire, now 59, recalled in an interview this month.

On the fifth occasion, McGuire told Curry he was not going to do it anymore.

"'Then you’re not what God is looking for. You’re never going to be an altar boy,'” McGuire recalled Curry telling him. “My dad was gone, now God doesn’t like me. I needed the church. I wanted to be an altar boy.”

McGuire said that since that day “it’s been a daily struggle of how to hide it, how to make sense of it, how not to remember it. It’s been a full-time job.”

He also blames himself for not speaking out at the time because Curry later was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl at St. Mary’s Church in Groton in 1980 and 1981. The girl’s mother, who was Curry's housekeeper, filed a criminal complaint but prosecutors did not file charges against him. The diocese settled a civil case filed by the girl and her mother.

“You have to live with the fact that he went up the street and did the same thing to that girl. Those things weigh hard on you,” McGuire said.

Another lawsuit accused Curry of raping a girl at St. Mary’s for eight years beginning in 1961 when she was 8. The girl said that after the hundreds of assaults, Curry made her ask for forgiveness for tempting him. He also would instruct her to recite the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary for penance and warned her that she and her mother would be drummed out of the church and burn in hell for eternity if she told anyone of the abuse.

Curry died in 1986. At his funeral Mass, former Bishop of Norwich Daniel Reilly, who transferred priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes, where they then were accused of more abuse, told mourners that “Certainly, the Lord placed heavy crosses on (Curry’s) shoulders in recent years."

“Father Curry faced his struggles with an ever growing love of the Lord. ... We pray now that he will have eternal peace and light that he so richly deserves,” Reilly told attendees.

Deciding to go public

It took McGuire 40 years to tell his brother and wife about the abuse. McGuire first told his story to The Day 11 years ago, when the newspaper was investigating Reilly's actions. At the time, The Day did not publish his allegations, as McGuire wanted to remain anonymous.

But that all changed last month, when a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report that found that 300 priests in that state sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children over 70 years.

Those reports, as well as an editorial in The Day about the issue, angered McGuire and prompted him to contact the newspaper and speak publicly about what happened to him.

“I don’t care if people know my name now,” said McGuire, a cabinetmaker who lives in New London with his wife and two adopted daughters. “If it helps other people, then it’s worth it. The public needs to know they did these things.”

The grand jury report has prompted others to come forward, as well.

The Day also was contacted by John Waddington of Pawcatuck, who is angry about the sexual abuse he says he endured at the hands of the Rev. Charles Many at Sacred Heart Church in Groton in 1978. The $850,000 settlement he had won against Many and his religious order was overturned by a judge who said evidence about Many’s relationship with a 16-year-old parishioner was admitted improperly. If Waddington sued again, he would be able to sue only Many, who has few resources.

Attorney Kelly Reardon of New London, who has two lawsuits pending against the diocese and one being considered for a lawsuit, said she also was contacted by a victim after the release of the Pennsylvania report. Attorney Thomas McNamara of New Haven, who has represented people who sued the Norwich diocese, said he, too, was contacted by a victim after the report's release.

Gail Howard, a co-leader of the Connecticut chapter of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she was contacted by three alleged victims. She added that the group’s chapters across the country also are getting calls from those who say they were abused by priests.

Nationally, a hotline set up in New Jersey has been overwhelmed with calls from those who say they were abused, as that state has formed a task force to not only look into claims of sexual abuse but any attempts by the church to cover up the assaults.

“These are people who have not come forward and who were hurt decades ago. They are feeling the same feelings. They are angry. You have this deep-seated feeling that you are the only one and you deserved it,” said Howard, who said she was abused in Illinois and recently called the hotline set up in that state. “But when they read a report that 1,000 children were molested (in Pennsylvania), you realize you’re not the only one.”

Howard said that when her organization hears from someone saying they were sexually assaulted by a priest, she tells them she is sorry they were hurt and that they are not alone.

“I listen. I don’t tell them what to do,” she said.

Howard said she also offers them a chance to join the organization’s support group, which meets in Bridgeport and by conference call so anyone from across the state can participate.

No investigations in Connecticut

New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and four other states have launched various types of investigations into sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

Gail Howard of SNAP said she has written to Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane asking him to start an investigation.

“He should set up a hotline like other states to get complaints,” she said.

But Kane’s spokesman, Mark Dupuis, said no investigation is contemplated.

He explained that the chief state’s attorney and local state’s attorneys do not have investigative subpoena authority and a grand jury investigation in Connecticut “can only be initiated after a showing that there is reasonable belief that the investigation will lead to a finding of probable cause that a specific crime has been committed and that all other investigative techniques have been exhausted.”

“The system does not provide for an open-ended investigation without specific evidence of specific crimes. We are not aware of having received any complaints that have not been sufficiently investigated,” Dupuis wrote in an email to The Day.

Waddington sent an email to Dupuis on Sept. 12 saying he would be willing to go to the chief state’s attorney’s office and state or sign anything concerning Many, who he described as a serial rapist priest, to get an investigation going into the Catholic church in the state of Connecticut.

He told Dupuis how he “was raped by Many and have talked to numerous other people who were assaulted by him. The church just packed him up and sent him to Essex, Vermont, where he raped and assaulted more kids and the church still did nothing. ... Our recourse is the state of Connecticut. I talked to the Groton City police in 1994. I was told, ‘There is nothing we can do.’”

Jaclyn Severance, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General George Jepsen, said his office is “actively evaluating what investigatory action may be within the authority of this office and warranted.”

She noted, though, that “unlike most states, Connecticut’s Attorney General does not have jurisdiction over criminal matters.” She said that jurisdiction rests with Kane’s office.

“That said, our office is working diligently to determine whether any aspect of the matter falls within the civil law authority of our office to review," she wrote in an email to The Day.

McNamara, the attorney, said a criminal probe is needed.

“Until the bishops hear the clang of the jailhouse door behind them, nothing will change in the church. And even then, I have my doubts,” he said. 

Statute of limitations poses problem

In addition to a statute of limitations of five years to bring criminal charges in all but the most serious Class A felonies, Connecticut law only allows alleged victims who were minors at the time to file lawsuits until they are 48. McGuire said when he first talked to attorney Robert Reardon, who has won settlements for a number of victims, he learned he had missed filing a suit by three months. Robert Reardon is Kelly Reardon’s father.

Kelly Reardon said she had to tell the person who contacted her after the Pennsylvania report that he could not file a lawsuit because he was now in his 60s.

She said she often has that same conversation with the dozen or so people who call her each year to say they were sexually assaulted by priests.

“For a lot of people, they don’t have the courage to come forward until later in life,” Reardon said. “Some need publicity about other cases to come forward.”

She, McNamara and Howard all say it is time for the state legislature to abolish the statute of limitations.

Previous attempts to abolish the time limits for criminal and civil cases, including in the latest legislative session, have proven unsuccessful.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, the co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Children’s Committee who is not running for a 10th term this November, said that if she were returning to the legislature next year, she would have tried to get rid of the statute of limitations.

“It’s so horrific. There should be no statute of limitations,” she said.

Howard added that even if the statute of limitations were abolished, complainants still would have to go into court and “make a jury believe" their story.

Bishop Michael R. Cote of the Norwich Diocese said he sees no need to change the present statute of limitations. He pointed out that Connecticut already has one of the longest statutes of limitations in the nation.

He also said "the statute of limitations were established to ensure justice and are based on the premise that there is less clarity the further in time one gets from a given event. Over time memory fades, witnesses pass, and proofs which once may have been available no longer exist."

McNamara said the church needs “to examine the culture of the priesthood from a psychological standpoint and find out why it attracts so many people with these disorders.”

He said it is a culture where its members are “extremely sexually confused” and where sexuality is forbidden and hidden “but secretly explored.”

“The change has to come from within,” he said.

McGuire feels 'punched in the gut'

Today, McGuire and his wife, who have adopted two abused and abandoned girls from New Haven, both are struggling with serious health issues that in turn are impacting their finances.

McGuire said he did anything he could over the years to cope with the abuse, including using drugs.

“It makes it difficult to work, talk to people. It affects your attitudes about sex, about being a father, how to talk to your kids about religion,” he said.

“I’ve made a living pretending this didn’t happen. You push it so far down and tell yourself it didn’t happen,” he said.

As he described finding out about the girl who allegedly was abused by Curry after him, McGuire broke down crying.

“I could have helped that girl. I feel so guilty for not saying anything,” he sobbed.

With the help of the elder Reardon, McGuire did have a chance to speak with the now adult woman.

“I apologized for not saying anything. Then I realized I might be making things worse for her,” he said.

McGuire said that a decade ago, when he was having a particularly difficult time financially, he went to Catholic Charities for some canned goods. While he was there he told a social worker about how he was abused by Curry. He said the social worker took his information and said someone from the diocese would contact him.

No one called.

“I felt punched in the gut," he said. “I waited for a call. I believed them. I believed them again.”

Cote said he would be willing to meet with McGuire.

“I’m tired of the rhetoric. I’m tired of the talk,” McGuire added. “Why can’t they just step up and do the right thing?”

j.wojtas@theday.com

John 'Tim' McGuire poses for a photo in the carpentry shop at Spark Makerspace in New London on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. He says “it’s been a daily struggle of how to hide it, how to make sense of it, how not to remember it' after a priest sexually abused him when he was 8 years old. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
John "Tim" McGuire poses for a photo in the carpentry shop at Spark Makerspace in New London on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. He says “it’s been a daily struggle of how to hide it, how to make sense of it, how not to remember it" after a priest sexually abused him when he was 8 years old. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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