Victims, kin recount clergy sexual abuse
Cardinal in Pa. organizes forum
Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests listened Friday in Wynnewood, Pa., to victims of clergy sex abuse. (Rusty Kennedy/ Associated Press)
WYNNEWOOD, Pa. -- Monsignor David Benz listened in anguish as a woman described how a parish priest had sexually abused her two sons with the same hands he used to consecrate the body and blood of Christ.
The woman's story was told during a meeting Friday called by Cardinal Justin Rigali, who summoned hundreds of Roman Catholic priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia to hear from the victims of clergy sex abuse.
The victims offered sometimes graphic accounts of molestation and rape.
``It was like sticking a knife in my heart," said Benz, 63, of St. Philomena Church in Lansdowne.
Victoria Windsor Cubberly spoke of repeated abuse by more than one priest and the suicidal thoughts and nightmares she suffers as a result.
The mother of the two abused children, identified only by the first name, Grace, talked about the lingering trauma the abuse inflicted on her entire family.
``How did I not know? How did I not see it?" said Grace, who was not fully identified by the archdiocese. ``I will carry these questions until I die."
Some viewed the meeting as a small but hopeful step by the archdiocese to face its past.
Rigali, who convened the unusual forum at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, said that although many priests have read newspaper accounts of clergy sex abuse, they need to listen to the stories as well.
``It is extremely important for us to hear their stories firsthand so that we may see the human face and hear the human voice," he said.
About 330 priests and a handful of lay people gathered at the seminary, where victims spoke in a small auditorium just a few feet from the cardinal and his top aides. The priests were riveted by the speakers, who challenged Rigali to offer victims more help, including financial compensation.
Cubberly graphically described being raped as a girl by one priest in a rectory office. She later spoke of abuse suffered at the hands of two more clergymen.
``There are few people who want to hear my story; it's just too hard to hear," Cubberly said.
Grace described a priest who regularly visited her family's house in what she said was a concerted effort to gain the trust of her and her husband. The priest, whom she later referred to as a ``man from the devil," then used that trust to abuse her children.
Grace also read a letter from her older son, now in prison, describing how he dreaded seeing the priest's car pull up to their house. After taking the son to the priory and abusing him, the priest would bring him back home and have a drink at the kitchen table.
``It was like he was celebrating what he did to me," the son said in the letter.
Abuse victim Edward Morris, 44, told the priests that the church has lost generations of followers because of the crimes committed by clergy.
The speakers said it was difficult to report the abuse. ``I wanted so badly to be the good little Catholic girl who was supposed to please the priests," Cubberly said.
The 90-minute event was closed to the public, but video was streamed live on the archdiocese's website. Afterward, the priests attended a prayer service at nearby St. Martin's Chapel. Rigali did not answer questions.
A year ago, a Philadelphia grand jury accused church leaders of covering up decades of abuse by at least 63 priests.