Why I Kept My Rape By A Priest A Secret (And Can't Anymore)
If you've been a conscious human being for the last decade or so, you're aware that the Catholic Church has a serious problem with child abuse in the priesthood. And it may be bigger than we think. An estimated 68 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, and there's no reason to believe those percentages don't apply to nervous men in black frocks. Our source for this article, "Tom," was molested as a child back in the '80s, and he never reported it to anyone outside of the Church. For 30 years, he's kept quiet. And then he spoke to us. We're not sure why. Perhaps he was looking for the For Realsies Journalism office across the hall. It's a common mistake.
Predators Go After The Most Vulnerable Kids
Catholic school in the late '70s and early '80s was "a war zone" for Tom. He told us that "most of the school was populated by large families," which meant kids were often judged on the reputations their older siblings left behind. "For me, that meant I had to live up to the reputation of two dimwitted, truant, and trouble-making brothers," which "made me a prime target for ridicule and contempt."
Apparently, this was one of those religious schools that doesn't cover "forgiveness" until the later grades.
Now, Tom didn't tell us all this to make us feel sorry for him. The fact that he was unpopular and lonely is precisely why he was targeted. As Tom said, "Predators look for the weakest link. There is a reason jackals prey on the sick and wounded; they make great targets."
Tom's jackal was a "Kevin Spacey lookalike Marion Francis Helowicz. I have to use all three names, the way we say 'John Wayne Gacy.' He was a young priest, he was cool, and everyone, especially the boys, would do anything to be his best bud."
Tom does not think he was the first kid his abuser molested, and believes "... he had done it before, they had moved him from one church to another."
The ol' "Rotate your tires to fix a flat" approach.
We've been unable to find any independent verification of this claim. But the Catholic Church has been caught moving abusive priests to other parishes. This investigation, published last September, found five cases of priests being shuffled off to poorer parishes in Latin America, like the world's worst case of musical chairs. We also spoke with Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest who wrote the Church's "manual" for dealing with abusive priests back in the 1980s. He told us that, at the time, "secret transfers" were the "traditional way" of dealing with abusive priests.
Wow. Somewhere around the time you start needing a secret manual to help you hide all of your pedophiles, you'd think it might occur to you that you have too many pedophiles, and should perhaps address that problem.
Confession Is The Perfect Tool For Child Molesters In The Church
Confession is about the most Catholic thing you can do, outside of making lasagna for the Pope. Talking about your fears and problems can be a wonderful way to get past them; that's the whole premise behind psychotherapy. But as Tom is about to explain, the confession box also serves as a snare for molesters to trap children:
"The other priests were pushovers. 'Bless me father, I have sinned, I said a bad word two times, and didn't floss.' 'OK son, two Hail Mary's and go with God.' But not Father Marion Francis Helowicz. He asked questions. Questions a 12-year-old kid had never heard from anyone, much less an adult."
The questions ranged from the expected "Do you have impure thoughts?" to the awkward "Do you think of naked girls?" to the windowless van of queries: "Do you touch yourself?" Tom was on the cusp of puberty, awkward and lonely. He described himself to us as a "loser boy, needing a confidante." He answered the priest's questions. Being a pubescent boy, his respective answers were basically: "There are other thoughts?" "Only if 'all of them' count," and "Fanatically."
Everybody get a good laugh at that? Good, because that was the "Last smile before the horror" joke.
Rather than the usual several Hail Mary's in penance, Father Marion asked Tom to head into his office so they could "discuss this."
You think this is foreshadowing, building up to something. You're wrong. It gets bad, starting now. Please consider yourself warned.
This started "a year and a half of abuse by Father Francis Marion Helowicz. After he raped me the first time, he wiped his bloody dick on me, telling me it was 'the blood of Christ.' It only got worse from there. He physically stopped when I graduated eighth grade, but like that cold sore that starts to tingle when you spend too much time in the sun, he's always there."
There Was Nowhere To Go For Help
The late 1970s was a ... different time. Tom recalled, "one time in line, my brother said something and a stranger slapped him," and that was fine with Tom's parents, because "children were to be seen and not heard." Tom grew up as something of a latchkey kid: "My parents said 'Go out the door, we'll see you at 7 for dinner.' You left your kids out in the wild ... if a stranger said your kid was acting up and a kid denied it, you'd say that kid was lying."
Which you may recognize as the exact society a child molester would create if it were up to them.
That was only part of why Tom never reported what happened to him. "To me ... it was one of those things where you don't want to say anything to your friends ... there's the whole dirtiness factor of it. You think something's wrong, and it can be pleasurable as well as painful."
He added that the complete lack of Sex Ed, from either his school or his family, was another reason for his silence. Young Tom was once watching a TV show on ABC that got kind of sexually explicit. His dad jokingly said, "'At least we don't have to do ,' because the TV told ."
Because if there's one media source that never shied from the realities of sex, it's late '70s network TV.
That was what he knew about sex when Father Marion got to him. "The first time something came out of me, I was terrified ... we didn't have access to information ... we didn't understand all that. I think if I'd had someone I could go to, an adult I could go to ... I would've gone to somebody. I remember being sick the next day, and my mom said, 'What's wrong?' What are you going to say?"
Aside from the obvious-in-retrospect statement "I'd like to start going to public school."
Even today, your odds of finding help as a sexually abused Catholic kid aren't as good as they should be. In 2014, the Bishop of Kansas City failed to report that his IT people found child pornography on a priest's laptop. He was given two years probation, but remained a Bishop until 2015. That's the same year that the Bishop of Syracuse (NY) stated that kids who were raped by priests bore some responsibility for their assault. He apologized, but his reaction is indicative of the attitude the clergy had -- and sometimes still has -- towards these victims. In fact, in recent years, the Church has made more of an effort to litigate their accusers. In 2002, they sued the mother of two victims for negligence, in that she left her kids alone with a sacristan.
Father Doyle put it succinctly: "Across the board, the Roman Catholic Church has treated the victims of abuse with disdain."
Theistic Satanism isn't looking so bad now, is it?
It Sometimes Felt Kind Of Good
Being touched, even in the context of a rape, sometimes feels good, because genitals don't always have the highest standards. It's not uncommon for rape victims to experience orgasms. And an orgasm isn't the only way an abuser can make a victim feel momentarily good. Tom told us, "there were ... hands on my thigh, looks in class. He would smile at me, and I would be happy he'd smiled at me. Eventually, it was kind of a brainwashing thing."
Turns out lonely, isolated kids in need of adult approval don't exactly have the highest standards either.
Tom believes the brainwashing was a key part of Father Marion's strategy. "He never said, 'If you say anything, I'll do this or that, he made it very clear that I would be ostracized and no one would believe me. The few friends I had would no longer talk to me, and the school would do nothing for me." In other words, Tom could be the priest's special friend, or he could become a pariah.
Which may as well be a death threat to your average 12-year-old.
"It's love-hate relationship. You want to curry favor, because you want to be accepted. And you feel like it's part of being accepted." And so, for two years, Tom just kinda went along with it. He kept quiet while he was assaulted somewhere around 10 times, and didn't report his abuse to the Catholic Church until he was an adult.
And that's when he finally got justice!
Oh, wait ...
The Church Cancelled Tom's Therapy And Told Him To Move On
In 1992, after a bitter divorce, Tom had increasing difficulty coping with what he'd experienced. He went to the Church for help. "Not money, mind you, since at that time, the Church's response was, 'It didn't happen, and we will be glad to tell the world you are an ass-fucked faggot who makes up stories about beloved priests, and boy, won't your Christmas dinner suck.'"
Which you may note is the grown-up version of the same fucking thing a pedophile said a few paragraphs back.
Perhaps you can tell that Tom's still a bit bitter toward Catholicism today (being raped multiple times, in a church, by a priest, will do that to you). But he still considered himself a Catholic when he first went for help way back in '92, and he didn't know that sexual abuse in the Church went any further than him. "I had no idea that the abuse was widespread. I was actually hesitant to contact the Church because I had no proof, and I had only heard that a priest at my parish had 'trouble.'"
No, "trouble" is how you tactfully refer to back taxes. The term they wanted was "child rapist."
The internet wasn't very useful back in 1991. Neither Google nor Wikipedia existed, and people who forgot which one was Bill Paxton and which one was Bill Pullman could go days without a definitive answer. Tom didn't know Father Marion had been transferred for abusing another kid: "I just heard that a priest at my church got in trouble, and my mind slapped me in the face and told me to wake up and put two and two together."
It turns out that Father Marion pled guilty in 1988 to molesting a learning-disabled boy who came to him for counseling. That happened in 1982. Tom was fuzzy on the exact date of his own first assault, but he recalls it happening when he was in eighth grade, in 1981. It's important that we note that Father Helowicz was only convicted of molesting one child, although he has been accused by two others. And now "Tom."
Diligent readers may remember that "68 percent of victims never come forward" stat from earlier. Likely, only Helowicz knows what the real number was.
After he came forward, Tom received "... some counseling. They gave me a tour of the rectory (boy, that was fun). After about two years, they decided I should be over my abuse and that I should now become a productive Catholic without their assistance."
Father Helowicz received some therapy, too. He went to a treatment facility in Missouri, where he received "good grades." So that's comforting. We hear "Not Molesting Children Who Come To You For Help 101" is a tough course.
With marks like that, he probably aced "Intro To Not Strangling Puppies" and "Braking For Pedestrians Theory."
We asked Tom for a little more detail on why he felt the Church cut his therapy short, and he explained, "I switched counselors again, and they said they didn't think they should have to pay for it anymore." He spoke with a Church official, William Malooly, whom Tom felt was "frustrated" at his lack of progress. He claims that Malooly eventually said something along the lines of, "'Do you really think this is working? You've been through three counselors.'" Tom didn't know that therapy sometimes takes more than two years and three counselors, so he agreed. "I'm sure he had a docket and had to get through the day on this. I'm sure it was just numbers to him, not people. I never saw any compassion from him."
By the way, that guy is now Bishop Malooly.
Theistic Satanism! We're just sayin' ...
It Doesn't Necessarily Get Better
As a young adult, Tom tried to suppress what happened to him. But the memories continued to haunt him. Eventually, he learned about Father Marion's conviction. "I read about him doing it to someone else." And it all came flooding back. It forced Tom to confront what had happened to him.
At least we've finally reached a point where it's not just the victims doing the confronting.
Today, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (with the uncomfortably whimsical acronym "SNAP") provides a place for victims like Tom to gather and find help. Tom initially reached out to SNAP, but he did not have an ideal experience with them. "The first thing they do is send you a letter with your name on it." See the issue? Tom, like probably most people, didn't want everyone who saw his mail to instantly know he'd been raped by a priest.
And before you ask: Yes, people notice these things.
"I tell them, I can't believe this ... this is a dark secret. Are you fucking kidding me? Why don't you send me a T-shirt and a banner?"
We're sure SNAP provides a valuable service for many, many people, but perhaps a bit more discretion is in order. For example, whenever we mail embarrassing letters -- which are the only letters we know -- we use envelopes labeled "World Surf-Karate Championships: Award Enclosed."
We reached out to David Clohessy, the director of SNAP. He was deeply apologetic: "Over the years, we've had a handful of people who've felt we didn't do all we could do to handle their privacy ... I would deeply, deeply apologize for him or her, because obviously it takes a hell of a lot of courage for a victim to speak up. If in any way, shape or form we made it harder for a victim to come forward ... we feel terribly about that."
Without anyone to talk to, Tom dealt with his trauma via a shitload of "indiscriminate" sex in his youth. This is not uncommon behavior for survivors of sexual trauma. "It didn't matter who it was with -- guys in my fraternity and girls and odd threesomes -- there was no lust, and there was no love or revenge. It was acting out, playing a part."
It should come as no surprise that this kind of abuse can manifest in pretty extreme ways in adulthood.
Surprise! It didn't help. And in the end, Tom doesn't have anything optimistic or happy to say about what happened to him. We think articles about these kinds of horrors are important, but ... "There's no message of hope. Things don't get better. I look at people and immediately think they know. It's like having a scar on your face. You always feel like people can tell."
"It's like ... there's no sunshine now, and things are great. I still wonder if I should sue the Church ... but I would burn the money. It would be about revenge. I consider myself a good person. I don't have untoward feelings for children. But I'm hyper-aware of it. I don't hug people."
Not every sad story gets an inspirational ending. Sometimes, tragedy simply stays tragic.
And as for Father Francis Marion Helowicz? Well, he went to jail ... for six months, until it was decided that "incarceration would serve no useful purpose." As far as we're aware, he's not currently working at any Catholic church or school. We asked David of SNAP what usually happens to priests like Father Helowicz. He explained, "They tend to defrock only the most egregious ... 'We can't have you in a parish anymore ... here's the deal ... I'm going to continue to pay your salary, health benefits, car allowance, and in exchange, you're going to stay invisible.'"
Sure. That seems fair: Molest a few kids and never have to work again. It's like buying a winning lottery ticket with your soul.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned Committing A Campus Sexual Assault and 5 Things I Learned Pretending To Be A Molested Kid For Cops.
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