By Joe McGee
My childhood and a good part of my life was stolen by a pervert masquerading as a priest.
Once, at a motivational meeting about 20 years ago, I heard the speaker make a statement that really rocked me. He said, "A friend is someone who knows everything about you and still likes you anyway." Most people there laughed, but I felt a twinge of pain. My friends, and even my wife, did not know my deepest, darkest secret.
Not too long after that, I heard someone make the profound statement: "We are as sick as our secrets." That also made my stomach do flip-flops.
I believe this article is long overdue. About eight or nine years ago, there was an article about me in the Denver Post, but I was anonymous in that one because I still was too afraid to put my name to my story. However, my story was published in the Denver Post on Dec. 18, 2005, with all the names and the facts. It took 50 years to summon up the courage to tell the truth.
My motive now is to try to create a little more awareness on the subject of how a person feels who has been severely abused by someone whom they believed to be next best to God/Jesus. This business of the clergy sexually molesting the faithful is nothing new. It has been going on for centuries. The hierarchy of the church has had so much power, to the point of even threatening people with excommunication, if they dared talk about priests molesting the faithful. Of course, most of the hierarchy haven't used that tactic much for about the last 20 years. But it did work very well for them for a long time, because all good Catholics knew that excommunication from the church was a sure ticket to everlasting hell. And, if you are a good Catholic, you're not going to take that chance. Just get back in line and keep your mouth shut if you want a shot at heaven.
When I was a small child in catechism at St. Catherine's, in Iliff, Colo., we were taught the priest was "Jesus personified." God and Jesus were one and the same. The priest was just one level below God/Jesus. You did not question God or the priest, lest you suffer the pains of everlasting hell. Whatever the priest told you, you did without question. Blind faith was the most holy and righteous thing we little Catholics could practice.
In the spring of 1953, when I was ten years old, I was molested the first of many times over the next three years by Father John Stein. He told me I could not tell anyone because ordinary people would not understand. I thought I was going to die. At that point, I passed a milestone no child of ten should ever have to experience. I naturally didn't realize what was going on right before he started molesting me. I have since learned, from talking with hundreds of people all over the United States and Canada who have been molested by priests, that what he did to groom and prepare me was almost exactly the same as the way their abuse started. I suppose the grooming process any perpetrator uses to prepare his victim is very much the same all over the world.
He took me and others on many overnight trips. He told me over and over what a really special kid I was. There were alcohol and cigarettes, which made you feel rather grown up when you're ten years old. And then back-rubs started, to get you used to being touched. And the clincher that helps make any boy that age keep a secret--he let me drive his new car.
In the spring of 1956, Father Stein was suddenly gone from Iliff. The rumor was that he got caught trying to lure a junior-high girl into his car in Sterling. The police took him to the station not knowing they were taking a priest in for questioning, because he did not have on the black suit and Roman collar. After questioning Father Stein and realizing they had the priest from Iliff, the police didn't know what to do. So they called Father Kane, the pastor at St. Anthony's in Sterling, only a few blocks away from the police station. Father Kane took Father Stein off their hands and nothing more was done as far as due process of the law. Father Kane did tell me it was my fault that Father Stein was gone but he did not tell me why it was my fault. Truthfully, I was glad Father Stein was gone.
For the next 35 years, I kept total silence and remained a practicing Catholic.
About August 1991, I happened to see the movie "Judgement" on TV about Father Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana, and how devastating his abuse was to some kids and their families. Watching that movie was extremely painful, but I began realizing others had gone through what I had. I called the Denver diocese office in September 1991, and told them I wanted to report my abuse by Father Stein in Iliff many years ago. Apparently even their phone people were trained to stonewall. They said they had no records of a Father Stein. When I persisted that I was going to talk and that I knew they had records somewhere, they said he was no longer a priest and there was nothing they could do for me. I told them I knew he was no longer a priest, but the son-of-a-bitch was when he molested me repeatedly over a three-year period. Then they immediately told me where he was. They went from telling me they had never heard of him to telling me exactly where he was in about 15 minutes. That was the first of many calls, letters, and personal visits to the diocese office over the next five years.
A few months after that first call, I was watching some of the many victims of Father Porter being interviewed on TV. I remember feeling like I was in the worst nightmare, yet knowing I was awake watching TV. It was absolutely eerie when I realized I knew what each one was going to say next before they said it, as they described the horrors Father Porter put them through in Fall River, Mass. At that point, I was feeling some pretty intense emotional pain. I knew I was feeling pretty weird for the next several weeks and my wife was really upset with the way I was acting, and yet, I could not tell her what was wrong. I finally told her after several weeks. I'm sure it was shocking to her, as we had been married about 28 years at that point.
She was so supportive I regretted not telling her sooner.
After telling my wife, I decided I had to go to the archbishop and personally tell my story. On my first personal visit, I was to see then-Archbishop Stafford. When I got there, he was busy with "important" stuff, so I told my story to then-Vicar General Father Nickless and another priest. I spoke with enough detail that they knew for sure that the abuse happened many times and that it was much more than just a little fondling. They listened intently. I remember thinking they were going to come through with a real glorious pastoral response. When I was done, Father Nickless told me of my need to forgive. Then he said what I believe to be the all-time insensitive statement: "If Jesus could suffer and die on the cross I would think you could handle this." I was dumbfounded and left there feeling like I'd been kicked in the gut.
Soon after that visit, I asked by phone and by letter for the diocese to pay for my counseling. Father Nickless offered me, free of charge, the services of Father Roland Freeman, who was a priest and the counselor for the priests of the diocese. I didn't feel right with that offer. I wanted to choose my own counselor. Father Nickless then told me it didn't really appear that I wanted help if I rejected their offer of "free" counseling. I found a wonderful counselor and paid for it myself. When I went back to the diocese office about a year later and told Nickless I wanted reimbursement for my counseling and my other medical expenses related to the abuse, he told me apparently my counseling did me no good because I still seemed angry. Well, I was getting angrier and angrier as time went on. Nickless kept insisting all I needed to do was forgive and forget. Forgive? Forget? My childhood and a good part of my life was stolen by a pervert masquerading as a priest, and it seemed like he was trying to minimize my pain and imply that if I were just a better person, I would quickly forgive and forget. Occasionally he would add, "I will certainly pray for you".
There were many letters and phone calls and a few more personal visits over the next several years. It was always the same. "Forgive and forget." "Put it behind you." "Move on." I suppose it was all good advice, if you feel you have been heard, been believed, and been understood. I didn't feel that, though.
In September 1996, I received an offer of $10,000 if I signed a confidentiality agreement. That was about one-fourth to one-fifth of what I had been asking to cover my actual expenses, and to go away and not bother them anymore. When I started reading the confidentiality agreement I became really angry. I realized it read almost exactly as I had heard from many others I had met at conferences for persons abused by priests. I thought about tearing it up and sending the pieces back to them. I thought about going to the diocese office and tearing it up in front of them. I thought about going to the diocese office with a ball-bat and telling them what they could do with it. It struck me, then, why some people commit suicide over this--and I have known several who did. It said if I agreed to it I could never talk about it.
After much deliberation, I signed the agreement and soon received a check for $10,000. I did it because at that point, after five years of going back and forth with the diocese, I felt that I was never going to do any better with them. I was worn down.
One thing I do know is that if you felt trapped in guilt and shame and secrecy before breaking your silence, you feel worse after knowing you signed something that says you must never talk about any of it. Any good therapist will tell you that you must talk and identify what it is that you're going to correct before you can ever think of "getting over it."
I don't know that anything will ever completely take away the anger and frustration you feel when you have been the victim of the ultimate abuse of power and trust by Jesus' personal representative (the priest) as a child, and then by the hierarchy in the diocese office years later, when I went there for help without the aid of an attorney. I don't really care what they try to do now about my breaking confidentiality. I spent way more over the years because of the abuse than they gave me.
There are people who actually believe that anyone who goes to the diocese hierarchy and tells a convincing story of being abused by a priest quickly gets a check for $100,000. I have had some people, who thought themselves very religious, tell me, "You know the Catholic church considers age seven to be the age of reason. Therefore, since you were 10 years old, it was 50% your fault." Or--"My God, that was 50 years ago. Get over it." Or--"Couldn't you just keep quiet for the good of the church?" Or--"Satan must really have a grip on you." And on and on with stupid, insensitive remarks like these.
I was a child who believed priests could walk on water, because we were taught to revere priests above all others. Of course, I know better than that now, but when I was a child I thought like a good Catholic child.
This quote by Judy Herman really sums up my feelings: "It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, to hear, and to speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."
Foundation member Joe McGee writes: "I have been in insurance and securities for the past 29 years. I have been married 42 years. We have two children and three grandchildren. About 13 years ago, I quit drinking, quit smoking and quit going to church all about the same time. It was when the hierarchy treated me like I was nothing but a troublemaker when I first approached them (in 1991), about 37 years after the fact, that I lost my faith."