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Their struggle put a face on clergy abuse

By SHERRI DAY
Published February 5, 2007


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BY SHERRI DAY TIMES STAFF WRITER

For thousands of people, the memories came flooding back five years ago when John Geoghan, a defrocked Boston priest, was accused of serial child molestation. Geoghan's trial - he was convicted and imprisoned - shed light on one of the worst scandals in the history of the Catholic Church. It also freed many victims of clergy sexual abuse from the bonds of silence. Today, the victims of clergy sexual abuse call themselves survivors. Among them are Chris McCafferty of St. Petersburg and Diane McKenzie of Palm Harbor. He still embraces the church. She wants to but does not yet feel she can.

Chris McCafferty, 34

The priest's photograph in a newspaper brought it all back.

There was Robert Schaeufele denying accusations that he had abused young boys. Chris McCafferty knew better. He had known Schaeufele when he was a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Pinellas Park in the mid 1980s.

McCafferty seethed.

His wife noticed first. He was acting strangely, increasingly prone to nightmares that always had the same villain. He thought Father Bob was coming to get him.

It had been years since Schaeufele abused McCafferty in the church's rectory. McCafferty hung out with the altar boys. The priest treated them to pizza, bowling and ice skating before taking them back to the rectory and molesting them.

McCafferty's abuse began when he was 11. He struggles to recall when it ended. He says he spoke up to save other children from the same fate. He was a part of the case in 2003 that ultimately resulted in a 30-year prison sentence for the former priest.

"At least a lot of these people are behind bars now," McCafferty said. "Imagine if these victims didn't come forward. How many other children would be hurt right now?"

McCafferty says he lives with the scars of his abuse every day. Television programs that depict violence against children set him off. So do Dateline NBC programs about Internet predators and hints of abuse of congressional pages in Washington, D.C.

He tried to lobby the Florida Legislature to open the statute of limitations on old cases, making way for investigations and lawsuits. But he left the building in tears in mid testimony.

He suspects he will never get over his abuse, but he aims to put it behind him.

Sometimes, when he takes his daughter to Catholic School or slips into a pew at church, he feels the stares of fellow believers. The resentment is palpable, he says. He's the guy that took the dirty laundry public.

But McCafferty has no regrets. He loves his church, his bishop and his faith. The actions of one bad priest haven't ruined his religion.

"At least I know I made change," he said. "It may not be enough, but it's a start."

Diane McKenzie, 55

Diane McKenzie wants her faith back. It hangs in the balance between broken promises and battered trust.

For five years, she has lobbied the Diocese of St. Petersburg to include a clergy abuse survivor on its Review Board, a body of lay people who hear sexual abuse claims and make recommendations to Bishop Robert N. Lynch.

Despite promises by Lynch to see that the board includes a clergy abuse survivor - McKenzie has the letters to prove it - the 11-member body still does not have one. It's an omission McKenzie cannot bear.

"For me, this is the litmus test," she says. "If there's a survivor on this board, I will feel like I've come full circle, that we're all working together and that victims are viewed as part of the healing process in the church and not part of the problem."

Review board chairwoman Sue Brett says the board does include a victim of sexual abuse and is open to adding a clergy abuse survivor. But they need the right person and plan to move at a speed and in a direction guided by the Holy Spirit, she said.

"None of this is going to happen overnight," Brett said of the board, which operates independently of the bishop, though the diocesan attorney attends most meetings. "We have to allow the spirit to help us in finding what we need in order to be as pastoral and as open as possible."

McKenzie's sexual abuse dates back to the 1960s. She came forward seven years ago, two years before Boston and the deluge of victims.

She had repressed the memories for 34 years. After her son's wedding in 2000, the flashbacks started. There she was, serving as a junior sacristan at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Largo.

A Spanish priest, Emilio Garcia, began molesting McKenzie at 14. Two weeks after her 16th birthday, Garcia invited her to the rectory to pick up a birthday present. The secretary was out. Garcia advanced, raping her as she turned her face toward the crucifix on the wall.

When McKenzie confronted him more than 30 years later, Garcia admitted his abuse and was removed from his post in the Diocese of Orlando and sent back to Spain.

Determined to heal and hold onto her religion, McKenzie remained faithful to church, sought therapy and attended diocese-sponsored support groups to understand clergy sexual abuse. She praises the church for the steps it has taken to help victims and children.

But she feels her diocese fails her and other victims by not including the voice of someone who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of clergy on its review board.

She doubts she can go back to church until they do.

"For those of us who were hurt, the main thing they owe us in the future is to make sure that every possible, conceivable thing can be done to not have this repeated," McKenzie said. "And one step in that direction is to have someone on that board."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Sherri Day can be reached at (813) 226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Are you a survivor?

Since the clergy abuse scandal broke five years ago, thousands of victims have come forward to name their abusers and seek help.

- Therapists and academics suspect many survivors remain unknown.

- In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, victims may contact Marti Zeitz, the diocese's victim assistance minister, toll-free at 1-866-407-4505 or at mzeitz@ccdosp.org.

- Victims may also contact the bay area chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Reach group leader Martha Jean Lorenzo at (813) 879-6290.

[Last modified February 5, 2007, 02:08:53]


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