You Are Not Alone
By Mark Furnish, Diocese of Rochester NY
Delivered to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
Geneva, Switzerland on October 12, 2002
I can not change the fact that I was sexually molested by a Catholic priest.
Believe me, I have tried for the past 15 years to do just that. I spent those years in denial – I am just now discovering the harm, pain and embarrassment this molestation has caused to my body and mind.
It was very difficult for me to tell my wife, family, friends and colleagues what happened. I have struggled with the decision to publicly come forward with my story. I don’t want to do this, but I believe I have to. If my story, in some way, can prevent even one child from facing the pain of sexual abuse and the hurt of manipulation by someone they trust, then my discomfort with all of this is worth it. I firmly believe that silence, denial and the lack of action is the greatest tragedy in this entire Catholic crisis. I need to break the wall of silence.
My abuser was a master of deceit and manipulation. He knew that his role as a Catholic priest granted him instant trust by adults – my parents included. He knew I would not question his authority at 12 years old, especially as a student taught in Catholic schools since kindergarten. He was smart enough to hide his sexual impulses under the guise of “weekend trips” with other boys at his “cottage” – actually a small, run down two room hunting shack three hours away form my home in the middle of the woods.
I went on several of these trips. Sometimes I was molested, other times I was not – but the pattern was always the same. The other boys and myself were allowed to drink alcohol, whisky, gin and beer were all very common – in fact very little in the way of nonalcoholic drinks were provided to us. After dinner we would take a drive to a local bar, where Father would continue to drink into the night. After the bar visit we would all get into his car and he would drive us back to his cottage (I vividly remember one night he was so drunk he vomited on himself while driving).
It was now time for bed – and it became one of the most stressful parts of the evening. Most of us would sleep on the floor in the dining room – but one of us would be chosen to sleep in Father’s bed with him. Sometimes he would pick the boy to sleep with him, but most of the times we would be asked to choose among ourselves. If we did not make the determination quickly, Father would get upset and tell us to hurry up – often times a flip of a coin would decide the matter.
Father’s bed was quite small. He would insist that the only way I could sleep comfortably was to strip down to my underwear. He would not drop the matter until I complied with the request. He would then offer to give me a “massage” to aid in falling asleep – he always referred to these sessions as “massages”. The massage would consist of Father rubbing down my body and always ended by touching my genitals and buttocks area. Sleeping during the night was difficult, often times I would wake up because Father’s hands were touching me.
The next morning Mass would be celebrated before breakfast. After breakfast we would all take turn taking the Sacrament of Confession with Father. He called these “open” confessions. These confessions involved taking a walk in the woods. Father would proceed to list off Ten Commandments asking me to list the sins I committed under each Commandment.
This would go quite quickly until we reached “Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife”. He would explain that this did not just mean adultery, but any sin involving sex, including masturbation. He would then focus intently on the subject of masturbation for hte rest of the confession. If I denied I masturbated, he would say I was lying, siting some scientific “study” which indicated that 99.9% of all men masturbate. He was obesessed with the topic. The rest of the day would be a repeat of the day before.
On the way back to Rochester, Father would remind us that he trusted all of us a great deal, and “discussing” what happened at the cottage would create problems for everyone – as it had once in the past when someone “had a big mouth”. At home, I didn’t volunteer facts about what occurred and since I was spending my time with a priest, my parents didn’t feel the need to ask.
I went to the cottage four or five time. However, there were also trips to Toronto where “massages”, trips to pornography stores and heavy drinking all occurred.
By the time I was in high school I knew enough to know that I did not enjoy these trips and refused to go on any more overnights. Although I stayed in contact with Father, occassionally going out ot dinner, where he complained bitterly to me about how the Bishop was “out to get him”, I grew up and went on with my life. Father performed the funeral mass for my grandmother, and I even asked him to perform my wedding ceremony (he refused).
Why did I wait so long to come forward? Why didn’t I refuse to stop going on my trips with my abuser after the first molestation? Good questions with a very simple answer. I was in extreme denial, quite common with victims of sexual abuse. These trips were a bizarre mix of alcohol, sexual molestation, normal sightseeing, and Catholicism. I had sex talks with Father under the guise of “confession”. I was told the molestations were “massages” and the next morning mass was said. As a teenager, it was easy for me to convince myself nothing was wrong.
The denial worked for a long time. It wasn’t until law school that I suffered from extreme panic attacks and depression. For a long time, I had no idea what was the cause of them. Over the past year, the nonstop media coverage of priest abuse forced me to reflect back and I started to piece together my own story of abuse – and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Today I am in therapy and working to help others who suffer with the same stigma.
My mother, a devout Catholic all her life has left the Church. I was not only sexually abused, but spiritually abused as well.
Everyday I find out more and more about my abuser. I found our recently he was sent away for treatment and people had concerns about his unhealthy interest in youth before I was even born. Why wasn’t anyone there to protect me? I also harbor guilt that I didn’t speak out sooner – might it have spared someone else form abuse?
So I want to take this awful experience and use it as a tool to warn others. The common warning we tell children is “don’t take candy from strangers” – very good advice. But we fail to realize that sexual abuse often occurs by a trusted member of that child’s life – no one should be immune from suspicion – even your priest. Further, the negative effects of sexual abuse often do not manifest until years later – it is important to take preventative steps before it is too late for your child.
I hope my story will help in some small way. I also want to encourage others who suffer in silence to come forward with their own stories – you are not alone.