Tags: The | Unkindest | Cut: | the | Altar | Boy | Connection

The Unkindest Cut: the Altar Boy Connection

Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM

Decades after serving their last mass, some of these boys-grown-to-men can never forget when their lives, their faith and their trust in all authority were altered forever. Some, the suicides, are past forgetting.

"Survivors are ever so gradually gaining more courage and realizing that suffering alone in secrecy, shame and silence won’t magically make their pain go away," explains David Clohessy, the network’s national director.

Clohessy suggests, as do many others, that only the tip of an iceberg of abuse has emerged into the light of day.

Those who have served with priests at the altar as they consecrated unleavened bread, transforming it into the body and blood of Christ, can most readily understand and identify with the enormity of the betrayal.

In the parochial schools of decades ago, the teaching nuns ruled the classrooms with an iron fist and often a stiff yardstick. These immaculate "brides of Christ,” operating under direct license from God, had no problem with discipline.

But even they cowered reverently to the priests.

The nuns may have been married to God, but the priest was God, or as close an approximation of God as a 10 year-old altar boy would ever experience temporally.

Thankfully, the large majority of former altar boys never lost their awe and reverence of these special servants of Gods. And like the romantic egoist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who avoided re-meeting his sublime first love in middle age, they cling to the memories of those halcyon days when Judas was the only traitor.

However, the media reports assault and re-assault the happy images:

Tales of altar boys sexually attacked in the church sacristy where the priest dons the sacred vestments of his holy office, praying as his young server helps secure the rope belt around the priest’s waist.

Sordid stories of rapes and fondlings in the rectory, on field trips, in the darkened seats of a movie theater, while ostensibly adjusting an altar boy’s red or black cassock…

"It’s like someone dropped a bomb in my lap," said one anonymous former knight of the altar, speaking out at last about his 1985 ordeal to the Philadelphia Daily News.

As a 12-year-old altar boy he was summoned to the rectory prior to serving mass. There he was ordered into the bedroom of a visiting priest who told him to take off his clothes and lay on the bed.

Since that day 17 years ago, the shell-shocked altar boy has not entered a church, not even making an exception for his father’s funeral.

This week the Connecticut Post reports that a Catholic priest who served prison time last year for trying to entice an underage boy into sex via the Internet is now being accused of sexually assaulting an altar boy at a Trumbull, Conn. church in the late 1980s.

In a lawsuit "James Doe,” now 26, accuses the Rev. John Castaldo of molesting him beginning when he was 12 years old in the sacristy of St. Theresa Church and during a trip with other altar boys to Florida.

Last month the Hartford Courant reported that in the summer of 1984, the Rev. Charles Carr moved into the rectory after joining the faculty of Immaculate High School in Danbury, Conn. Within weeks of his arrival, Carr took a 14-year-old altar boy to the movies where, according to the boy’s parents, he fondled the youngster.

In March, the New York Daily News told the story of another man preferring anonymity, now 37, who confronted John Cardinal O’Connor with numerous alleged fondling episodes by a priest formerly in charge of the parish altar boys.

The alleged victim said the assaults started during sleep-overs at the priest’s residence when he was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. Mary’s Church in upstate Port Jervis. The victim alleged the priest would rub his genitals in bed and watch him shower.

"Cardinal O’Connor said to me… 'It’s your word against the Father’s. What am I supposed to do?' That’s when I handed him a letter," he recalled to the News.

The letter was one of 10 that Joseph had solicited from fellow altar boys recounting their own episodes of abuse at the hands of the priest.

Also last month, the Miami Herald Herald reported a bizarre tale of stalked altar boys hiding under tables, in locked bathrooms and under beds. One boy, according to the report, "cinched his belt tight" to try to avoid being molested.

During a 31-year Florida career that began in Boynton Beach and ended with retirement in Tampa, the priest allegedly molested at least 12 boys, according to court documents, church memorandum and attorneys for the boys.

"In my opinion the toll may be far higher," said Sheldon Stevens, who represented three former altar boys allegedly molested by the priest. "Catholic Church officials never fired him. They never prosecuted him. Instead, they promised parents that they’d make sure he was never around kids again."

That promise never came to pass, according to the Herald.

Paul Schwartz maintained he was molested by the Rev. Robert Larson in the mid-1980s while an altar boy at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton, Kansas. Larson pleaded guilty to four sex crimes last year in Harvey County District Court and is serving three to 10 years in prison, according to a report in the Wichita Eagle, March 24.

"It’s a matter of, 'I’m not the only one -- see, I was telling the truth,'" Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he has begun healing, but one of the other victims was not as fortunate. Eric Patterson committed suicide in 1999, only months after confessing to his family he had been molested by Larson when he was an altar boy in Conway Springs.

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Decades after serving their last mass, some of these boys-grown-to-men can never forget when their lives, their faith and their trust in all authority were altered forever. Some, the suicides, are past forgetting. Survivors are ever so gradually gaining more courage and...
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Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM
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