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Forty years ago this month, I was raped by a Scalabrinian priest during a night shift at Villa Scalabrini in Northlake, Illinois. At the time, I was a skinny 19-year-old working as an orderly at the villa to make some extra money during my summer break from college.
The abusing priest and villa administrator, Fr. Lawrence Cozzi, had previously been the rector of the Scalabrini minor seminary, Sacred Heart. The seminary had existed for decades in Stone Park, Illinois. After abusing students at the seminary during his tenure as rector, Fr. Cozzi was moved, by his provincial, to the villa. At the villa, there were no boys to abuse, but there were still young male orderlies like me, who made prime targets.
Some years ago, at an abuse victims' support group in Chicago, a man a few years older than me confessed through his tears that Fr. Cozzi, while rector at Sacred Heart, had also abused him and other classmates attending the seminary.
What disturbed me the most was the abuse he described paled in comparison to what Fr. Cozzi did to me. I learned during subsequent support group sessions that because the majority of abusers get away with their crimes, their molestation intensifies over time — in terms of both frequency and type. Slaps on the wrist for misbehavior, instead of curbing anything, make it worse. Because they get away with groping, they progress to undressing, fondling and then, full-blown sodomy.
Father James Martin and friends, please take note: Gay sex is not pleasurable in any sense of the word. God did not intend for two males to copulate. So please, Fr. Martin and other gay choristers, don't speak about this painful evil as if it's natural or pleasurable!
I imagine in my head that the provincial who transferred Fr. Cozzi from Sacred Heart to the villa said something along these lines: "Oh, we can't let you run the seminary any longer, but we have the villa in a neighboring suburb. You can be its administrator as it has no boys to abuse — just the elderly."
Like so many other stories involving abusive clerics, superiors were complicit in the cover-up, which only enabled subordinates to continue abusing and thus compounded the problem.
It's not rocket science here. Adult men who seek out minors under their charge for sex should automatically be removed from their positions and put out to pasture — not made leaders, pastors or bishops.
Some information was recently forwarded to me about Abp. John Nienstedt taking up a new residence in one of Detroit's suburbs. The archbishop was removed from public ministry due to his mishandling of priest-predators under his supervision and allegations of sexual predation of seminarians. Sound familiar?
Minnesota's disgraced former archbishop now lives in a small home in Michigan half a block from a public park that sports a large soccer field, playground equipment and ample space to roam. How many lives does a man need to destroy by his predation before someone takes notice and puts restrictions upon him?
We now have hundreds of retired homopredator Catholic priests, and even some bishops, in the United States; some are sidelined, while others are forcibly retired. And yet, despite their bad behavior, they go about their day-to-day activities totally unimpeded, almost all still on the Church's dime. Like former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, almost all of these men have gotten away with their horrors unpunished.
As a victim of sexual predation twice over, I would like an answer someday from someone in authority in the Catholic Church to these questions: Why have these men gotten away with their crimes? Why do they remain unpunished? Why do the hundreds, if not thousands, of victims get no justice?
And despite the media flurry from time to time, bringing attention to homosexual predation by the clergy, nothing has really changed over the 40 years that have passed since Fr. Cozzi abused me. What a sad commentary about our society, that it accepts homosexuals preying upon youths.
I did write a letter to Pope Francis on the topic of clerical homosexual predation in August 2018, in the aftermath of the McCarrick scandal. To this day, despite Abp. Christophe Pierre (as U.S. papal nuncio) and Chicago cardinal Blase Cupich having received copies of this letter, I still have no response from Rome. As the saying goes, not receiving a response to a letter is in itself a response. But with Italian mail being the way it is, perhaps Pope Francis just didn't get the letter.
This 40th anniversary of my abuse remains bleak in so many respects, with the Church being so infected by homosexuals, who cover for one another. But this anniversary is still not totally dark; there remains hope. In Christ, all things can be made new, and innocence lost by predation can be regained. Some Christians miss this point at times. They fail to believe and trust that, in Our Redeemer, all things will be made anew, restored and made whole again in the New Creation. It took me, as a man, years to understand this fully and to believe it in my heart.
In the immediate aftermath of the abuse, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of being dirty, soiled and diseased. It's one thing for the priests who consoled me after the abuse to tell me I was not culpable for what had happened to me. It's an altogether different thing to feel innocent, to know I am guiltless. During the rape, Cozzi heaped upon me verbal abuse for what he was doing, as he rationalized that it was somehow my fault! Because my body did not respond to his molestation, his frustration knew no bounds.
In the aftermath of this rape, my innocence, my trust in God and the Church's priests, and my faith were lost. But, the good news is that innocence, trust and faith can be restored. Jesus said in the course of his public ministry that if a man has faith in Him, he could, by command, move mountains: "Amen, I say to you: whoever says to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him" (Mark 11:23).
Perhaps regaining lost innocence and one's childlike faith is not a mountain. But, when you're the one who has lost your childhood and your faith to perverts, it does certainly seem like a massive mountain to move. And it's not like I did not have help. In the course of my life after the abuse, God put many Simons in my life to aid me in carrying this cross and moving on in my life as a disciple of Christ. Recall, as mentioned in three gospel accounts of Our Lord's Passion, Simon was conscripted to help Jesus carry his Cross. In a similar fashion, God put people in my life to help me become a man, a priest and Christ's disciple.
So in a paradoxical way, I am a better man today because of the abuse that I suffered as a youth. Perhaps because of what I suffered, I can be more compassionate and understanding of those I encounter in my day-to-day interactions.
The mountain of shame was moved by my parents' many Rosaries offered devoutly over decades for my well-being. Innocence was restored because of my good boyhood pastor, Fr. Corbo, and his intercessory prayers. I am a man who thrives today because of many good friends who were supportive of me during the rough patches.
So for those of you who question what they can do to change the great evil of homosexual predation, sexual abuse and corruption in our Church, here's your answer. The prayers of the faithful can and will begin to stem this tide over time. In short, don't hesitate to include in your daily Rosary those who you know have walked away from the Church because of this crisis. Your sincere spiritual gift will change everything.
On this rather dark anniversary, I can see that God has brought much good out of this evil event. Thus, the future is bright with hope!
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