From Abused to Protector:
Claiming your Life After Your Church
Sexually Abuses You
A Story of Hope, Forgiveness and Triumph
by Kenneth F. Joe Sr.
The following are excerpts taken from Kenneth’s book, titled above. FireThePope highly recommends this book which is available for purchase at careenough.net as well as at amazon.com.
I met Fr. V. [Victor Stewart] before he was officially installed at our parish. He had begun living in the rectory and was already active in the Parish before his official installation ceremony. This was sometime in 1982. I was in the seventh grade and aware that Fr. V. was coming to St. Charles Lwanga. I was a good Catholic boy and involved in every aspect of parish life, from altar boy to volunteer in almost anything church related. I was really excited that Father was coming to the parish and I was happy that he was black. I had been baptized, had my first communion and went to school in the Parish. My whole life was built around home and St. Charles Lwanga [on Chicago’s Southside]. A black pastor was a first and it was the first time I was to see a black man up-close in a position of authority.
“Soon I was being encouraged by Fr. V. to hang out with him. A troubled, poor kid I had never done any ‘hanging out’. He had some of his godsons from his previous parishes visiting him at the rectory of St. Charles Lwanga. They all followed him around like he was a god. I remember feeling that I wanted to be liked by Fr. V. too! I want to be special and go to restaurants, bowling and movies! In fact, I did feel special when he “chose me” to hang out with them.
I began to spend time with these older boys. We went bowling, to the movies, etc. I was the youngest of the group, about twelve at the time. The other boys were about 18-early twenties. They had followed Fr. V. from his previous parishes and seemed to love him very much. He had a connection with them. It was like everyday was Christmas! I lived in the projects and was dirt poor. Our refrigerator was often empty and I was often a little bit more hungry after each meal. So something like bowling and after bowling snacks, which were sumptuous, like banana splits and Sundays and sodas was a real treat. My siblings were jealous of me and there was some resentment, but I was a kid and again this was irresistible for me.
Around July of 19982, sometime during the summer, Fr. V. began taking me to Ford City shopping Center to buy clothes. I had never been to such a place. I can only remember going to Evergreen Plaza once or twice. Fr. V. took me to the GAP and bought me corduroy pants in every color. I had never gone shopping and felt I could have what ever I wanted in the store. I was astonished. I had no constant father figure, no male, in my life and I craved one. My biological father came around every so often. I wished he would have been around more. Fr. V. was heaven sent for me. I had never seen the play Pygmalion, but if I had, Fr. V. was my Henry Higgins. He was opening up a whole new world for me, a world that as it happened made me the envy of many. Little did I know that there was a price to be paid for the status.
I remember school beginning when the first incident happened. It was the day after we had gone shopping. Fr. V. and I were watching TV on the second floor in the rectory. The TV room had three black leather couches, and a large screen TV, utter luxury for a ghetto kid. I had been in this parish for as long as I could remember. I had been baptized and made my first Communion there. I had been in that school since 1st grade and never had I been in the upstairs rooms of the rectory until Fr. V. arrived. I truly felt special and in the “in crowd”.
It started out with a hug. There was nothing unusual about this as he always hugged me.. I was always around, spending many a night at the rectory when we had gone to a movie. He’d call my mother and tell her I was spending the night. So it wasn’t anything unusual. Well, one of these sleep over nights he was hugging me close and then he began to unbutton my shirt. Without saying anything he began rubbing my nipples. Soon, it was more than my nipples that was erect. I felt odd, strange. I wasn’t sure this was supposed to happen. In fact, I was embarrassed. I remember I felt like screaming and running out the door. Just then Father K, the Associate Pastor and a long time friend of Fr. V. walked into the room and I thought it was over, and at least I wouldn’t have to struggle with my feelings. The two of them had a brief conversation, and Fr. V. never moved his hand from down my shirt. Fr. K just stood there and did nothing as Fr. V. sat hugging me with his arm that he had down my shirt. Fr. V. got up and locked the door after Fr. K walked out. I knew from this day that Fr. K would not be the adult savior that would stop the abuse.
I knew something was happening when he took me to his bedroom and took my clothes off. He looked at my body like it was something special, a work of art. I remember him looking at me like he wanted to consume me! He then got undressed and carried me to the bed. He lay down next to me and began to kiss me. I got uncomfortable when he tried to push his tongue into my mouth. I was rather shocked and it seemed so surreal I wasn’t sure it was happening. The sensations were so strange and other worldly. Then he stroked my penis. He began to suck my nipples. I ejaculated for the first time, a very strange, but pleasurable sensation. He then showed me how to perform oral sex and guided me into a position where we could perform on each other.
I later remember anger. I had never dreamed that this was the way I would lose my virginity. Like most boys I had dreamed of girls, my ideal girl and how it would be to be in love. To make love. Yes, I was mad. He had robbed me of that special initiation into the world of sex and love. I remember lying in the bed that night wondering if I was now gay. What would my friends say! Would they be able to tell that something happened! The morning came and I had no time to run because we went out to breakfast and then shopping. This would be the pattern of his manipulation of my mind.
Now about this time I was having trouble in school, or rather I was always in trouble at school. With my mother’s responsibilities she had little time to try to straighten me out. She had no time for a problem child. Besides, I wasn’t her favorite. So it was decided by Fr. V. and my mother that I would move into the rectory. The idea was that this would be a kind of ‘boot camp’ and it would straighten me out. Of course, Fr. V. had other ideas about me and my future. I remember being mad at my mother for allowing this to happen. I felt like she had given me to him to do with me as he pleased. She seemed to love him. She did not know that this action made me feel like she hated. me.
My room was on the second floor which is the same floor Father K’s was on. Ms. B, another priest’s mother, was the housekeeper. I always felt that she didn’t like me. She certainly wasn’t nice to me. However, it wasn’t personal with Ms. B, she didn’t seem to like any of the kids. Before Fr. V. came to the parish Ms. B ruled that rectory with a stern voice and a fast but wobbly walk. She didn’t allow children past the kitchen and when you had to go beyond those confines she watched you like a hawk. I know Ms. B felt like all of the rules had changed because there were now kids able to roam the rectory freely. I know now that by Fr. V. making this the norm, adults would not ask questions as to why the children were upstairs with him. During these years as we have gathered from other abuse stories, one wouldn’t dare think or question the actions of a priest.
By now Fr. V. and I were a ‘couple’. We went everywhere together and the sexual abuse had progressed to anal sex. One night when I slept with Father he told me I was his ‘wife’. I remember that term kind of conflicting with my self-image as an adolescent boy, but one didn’t argue with Father. As I said, what he wanted he got. One night while we were in bed together, naked, he made us take ‘vows’. This made me feel as odd as the ‘you’re my wife’ comment. But rather than rock the boat I told him all this was fine with me. He told me he was going to buy us rings. He took me to a religious store on the north side of Chicago and bought us both sterling silver crucifixion rings. HE told me to wear it at all times. I still have the ring.
About this time I graduated from grammar school but I was having more problems than ever. My official reports list all kinds of behavior problems. I know that my abuse was exasperating these problems. It got so bad that there was a two-month period where I didn’t go to school at all. The school would send homework and I would do it in bed at the rectory. This was the 8th grade.
During this time there were a lot of children hanging out at the rectory. Father had formed a basketball team, which included most of the boys I had grown up with in the parish. Some of them had never really attended the church, they had only attended the parish school. However, after Fr. V. became pastor of the Charles Lwanga, many of them started coming to church and eventually begun hanging around the rectory.
Other boys now were getting keys to the rectory. I, of course, already had keys to everything. Eventually many of the other boys knew the codes to get into the keypad lock to Father V’s suite.
I noticed all kinds of things going on. I was not Father V’s only plaything. One of the boy’s father would often come to the door in the middle of the night. Fr. Stewart had known this man long before he came to St. Charles Lwanga. Fr. Stewart told me on several occasions that this man, Mr. N was on drugs. On one occasion, I went into Father’s room and saw him and Mr. N having sex. They saw me, but said nothing. It was very traumatic to see this man who was a known drug user over Fr. V having sex with him anally. I went down to my room traumatized and frightened. Thinking that Fr. V would be angry with me, I tossed and turned all night expecting him to burst in my room. The next day there was a latch on Fr. Stewart’s door that he could slide to lock from the inside. We never talked about this incident, but we knew it was another secret we had between us.
Oddly enough, and I learned later in life, I was to feel something that was consistent with this type of abuse. When I saw other kids in Fr. V’s room I got a little jealous. That didn’t last Later I began to feel good about it, knowing it was somebody else’s turn and not me. Boys going up to his room was like a revolving door. His appetite was insatiable! Some days he would have 4-5 boys come to his room at different times throughout the day. I always knew when there was something going one when he had the ‘latch’ pulled on his door from the inside so I could not get in. This ‘latch’ would forever tell the story as long as we lived in the same house. I remember the relief I began to feel when it was someone else other than me. In my adult years, the guilty of feeling happy that other boys were occupying his time instead of me weighed on me. Even though I know I was not happy to know they were being abused. I was just happy it wasn’t me at that time. The older I got the more I hoped that someone each day would be around to fill his appetite so I would not have to be a course on that day.
About my junior year of high school the sexual abuse began to diminish, whether it was because he was losing his appetitive or because he was having other boys. Whichever it was I was grateful. By diminish I mean the sex went from every day, to three times a week, through the end of my junior year of high school. This may seem unusual because a kid this age and size should be able to fend off an abuser. Except that I was in his control, boy, mind and soul. Again, I felt good when it was someone else other than me.
Another odd part of my thinking was my psyche considered him my abuser, but my father as well. The ambivalence was painful, as someone who was supposed to love me also made me feel used.
I wound up in counseling with a psychologist who was a friend of Father Vs. The psychologist, Dr. J is now an ordained Methodist priest. During this time I was transferred to the Willibrord Catholic High School where my grades continued to plummet. The theme of my therapy with Dr. J was my relationship with my mother. I wonder if this was part of a conspiracy against me. After all, Dr. J was a good friend of Fr. V. He certainly wouldn’t want to get Fr. V. into any kind of trouble. And so this professional, in the name of friendship, or maybe more, could not create a safe, trusting environment between us. By this time my hatred for my mother had increased because I blamed her for ‘giving’ me to Fr. V. During therapy I talked about the feelings I had for my mother, but I said that I was angry towards her because I felt she loved my brother more than me. Although some of that was true, I to some degree considered that natural feelings that some siblings have growing up. My mother and I had one joint session together and I remember feeling that she should know what’s happening to me! I never disclosed anything about my abuse during my sessions. As I reflect back, there were a few times I considered telling Dr J about the abuse. However, having been controlled and manipulated by Fr. V. for so long, depending on him as my provider/parent and Dr. J being a friend of his all chased those moments quickly away. After a year of therapy Dr. J told me “there’s nothing wrong with you. If you don’t’ let go of the anger you have inside, it will control you and prevent you form being successful”. This advice though simple hit me like a ton of bricks. A light bulb turned on inside of me. I made a commitment to myself to succeed. I decided to not let this abuse define me. I from that moment locked the abuse somewhere inside of me and compartmentalized what Fr. V. was doing to me.
Moving on through Forgiveness
I have forgiven my abuser, my Church, my parish community, my parents and mostly myself for the abuse I endured. It may sound silly, but for many years I felt I should have been stronger, in order to prevent the abuse. Not so much the abuse I suffered, but the abuse of the 40 – 50 other young boys who were victimized during the years of my abuse. Father’s appetite was like a bottomless pit. He did not seem to have a specific age, body type, etc. He wasted all the boys he came in contact with. I have often thought in my adult years, if I had been strong enough to tell someone, then maybe the numerous other boys wouldn’t have been abused. Thinking rationally, I know that it is not my fault that I or anyone else was abused. However, a part of me feels guilty and responsible for not standing up and making it known what was going on through those years. My guilt mixed with my pain, caused me to abuse alcohol, be sexually promiscuous and to be overly suspicious about adults around children. I have moved to a better place with these things with the love of my wife and the joy of my son.
My decision to come forward and tell my story to the Archdiocese had a lot to do with giving validation to the stories that I knew so many of those boys (now men) were telling and to free my soul from the mental prison that this type of abuse puts you in. I knew that the only way that I could say that I truly was not letting this episode in my life control me, was by facing the story and I could only do that by telling the story. I wanted to stand up now for those who were victims of Fr. V. that were struggling with life because of how the abuse affected them.
People cope differently with abuse. Some use it as a motivating entity to overcome. Many, unfortunately, get lost in the pain and become self-destructive. Drugs, abuse towards others and sexual identity issues are only a couple of the many ways sexual abuse attempts to conquer the soul. My coping in regards to my abuse led me to defiant behavior and a me against the world type of attitude. These behavior served me well; however, there were plenty of time that this attitude cost me a great deal. Bar fights, drunken behavior and damage to close relationship. By the grace of God, my misdemeanors never cost me things that were permanently fractured or otherwise damaged.
For the past 17 years as an adult, I have struggled with my involvement with the Church. I still consider myself Catholic, but for a long while my attendance at Church was filled with conflict. My wife converted to Catholicism before we married, but that was something that I wanted to raise our future children with. Still, because of the troubled past I’d had with the Church I had no trust in the advice the priest gave during our pre-marital instruction. But I never lost my faith and trust in God.
Today, having gone public with my story, I feel that my past can actually help me to be more effective in my job in the field of Child Welfare. In fact, I don’t consider it a job at all. It’s much more than that. I know what it’s like to be abused and to feel all alone. I have lived that pain, and I know how important it is to be an understanding listener. I try to live every day of my life with the passion of one who had dedicated himself to serving the vulnerable and making sure that never again do their cries go unheeded.
My life in many ways has come full circle. My relationship with my Church is at peace now. I have learned the value of genuine forgiveness, and how it makes us more Christ-like to extend mercy when we have been wronged. I hold no grudges. By letting go of my anger and bitterness, it can no longer control me. There is a tremendous freedom in that.
I think I have found a parish that I can call home now. The congregation feels like the community we had at St. Charles Lwanga before the arrival of Fr. V. and all that ensued. Instead, I feel the love and the faith of my brothers and sisters, which compels me to serve in genuine Christian charity. I am not unrealistic, though, and I know that I am not all the way back yet. But I am nonetheless looking forward to my son’s first communion, confirmation, and all the other good and sacred aspects of our tradition. I think I may even become a deacon someday. It is my prayer that the Church of tomorrow can learn from the grievous mistakes and scandals of yesterday. This book is my testimony, my humble contribution toward that lofty goal.
Note: This is a very small part of Kenneth’s book which visitors are encouraged to read. The book details Joe’s experience in dealing with the Archdiocese of Chicago, includes copies of documents related to his lawsuit and the media coverage of it, and offers suggestions for improvements and reforms of the Catholic institution as well as general child welfare in all of society.
To Purchase: You may purchase a copy of From Abused to Protector: Claiming Your Life After Your Church Sexually Abuses You; A Story of Hope, Forgiveness and Triumph at CareEnough.net, Amazon.com, or by sending a check for $19.99 (shipping included) to Care Enough, P.O. Box 43723, Atlanta, GA 30336