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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A victim of sexual abuse in the Byzantine eparchy of Parma, Ohio shows the path to healing for victims of abuse and for the Church.
Jim Kotyk is on a mission. He wants his story of abuse, suffering and forgiveness to provide hope for other victims and encourage good priests to persevere in their vocation.
Church Militant spoke with Kotyk, who said, "I feel like God has given me a gift and I want to share that gift."
"I hope I can help others who've been molested by family, teachers and clergy. It is such a horrible, horrible wound," Kotyk said. "But with the grace of God, that wound can heal."
He said he was given the grace of forgiveness that allowed him to reclaim his life and his relationship with God.
Kotyk hopes he can reach those who've walked away from the Church. He encouraged them to "take a second look, learn a little bit about what you've left behind."
When Kotyk was 15 years old, Fr. John Rebovich, the pastor of St. Eugene Byzantine Catholic Church, sexually assaulted him twice in the rectory of the church. The first time was on Good Friday in 1980 after Fr. Rebovich plied him with a large amount of alcohol.
He explained Fr. Rebovich was a predatory priest who was transferred from the diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and had a number of victims. Father Rebovich was ordained as a member of the Oblates of St. Joseph and has also worked in the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Scranton before he was transferred to the Byzantine Rite.
"In my mind, he should have never been allowed to enter the priesthood," Kotyk added.
"The abuse affected every aspect of my life," Kotyk said. He was a gifted runner, finishing second in a national competition and had dreams of going to the Olympics.
"Following the abuse, it all went away," Kotyk said. He lost his confidence and the ability to run effortlessly. His coach, who also saw his promise as a runner, couldn't figure out until years later what had happened to him.
Kotyk also drifted from God. He loved serving Mass and was devout. He couldn't say whether he was stripped of a vocation to the priesthood, but explained he was robbed of the opportunity to discern if he had a vocation.
"I suffered in silence for about four years before I saw a counselor in college," he explained. The counselor attributed his psychological difficulties on the sexual abuse he suffered as a teen and suggested that he talk with Church officials to make them aware of the abuse.
Kotyk finally confided in his eldest brother and they met with Msgr. Andrew Vaida, the vicar general in the spring of 1984. Kotyk said at that meeting he felt as though he didn't believe him and wasn't going to take any action to prevent further abuse and get Fr. Rebovich help.
Only after Kotyk threatened to go to the media did the diocesan official acknowledge Kotyk's allegation. He also admitted that Fr. Rebovich had other complaints against him.
Kotyk didn't ask for any money; he only wanted to ensure that no other boys were hurt and that Fr. Rebovich received help. An agreement was made that Fr. Rebovich would be removed as pastor and be sent for counseling. Kotyk went on to finish college and began to rebuild his life but was still struggling from the effects of the abuse.
Initially, the diocese told parishioners at St. Eugene that Fr. Rebovich would be leaving the parish to assist missionary parishes, not that he was removed over a credible allegation of sexual battery. However, in July, Fr. Rebovich was reinstated as pastor.
In 1989, Kotyk got a surprise call from Fr. Don Petyo who wanted him to write a statement to the bishop about his abuse.
"Father Don was very concerned that he may be molesting other young men because he was surrounding himself with them," Kotyk said.
He was "very, very angry" when he learned that the diocese had betrayed his trust. He filed a lawsuit against Fr. Rebovich and the diocese, saying, "The sole reason why I decided to file a lawsuit was to accomplish what I thought I had accomplished in 1984 and that was to prevent Fr. John from molesting other young men."
Kotyk never intended to come forward publicly. The day after it was filed, he was cast into the national spotlight of sexual abuse when his lawyers accidentally disclosed his name in public documents. The story of the lawsuit, including his name, was on the front page of Cleveland's The Plain Dealer.
This was the second complaint against Fr. Rebovich. Edward Lojun Jr. claimed Fr. Rebovich propositioned him in 1975, when he was 15 years old, and worked for St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church in Dunellen, New Jersey.
At the time, Lojun told reporters, "I'm not looking for any money and I don't want to sue anybody but I will help in any way I can."
Kotyk suffered greatly during that time; he was called a liar, accused of doing a money grab from the Church and worse.
"My family's love is all I had to hold on to," he said.
Kotyk "escaped" the lawsuit by traveling abroad for about two months. Kotyk said during that period, Fr. Petyo and another Byzantine Catholic priest, Fr. Thomas Loya, supported him by playing an integral role in the civil suit.
Bishop Andrew Pataki, the bishop of the Byzantine eparchy of Parma at the time, "lawyered up" Kotyk noted. He explained they were high-powered and it was a real "David versus Goliath" story.
About a year after the suit was filed, and when it was clear the diocese was going to fight the suit with all they had, Kotyk agreed to settle the suit for a mere $60,000, admitting, "I was just tired of it."
Kotyk said he wasn't initially aware of how his suit brought about the exposure of the corruption in the Byzantine Church. After his suit, another was filed by four men who claimed the diocese of Cleveland, Ohio and the eparchy of Parma allowed Fr. Rebovich to abuse them for three years while they were all minors.
"I've seen the fruits of unforgiveness," he explained, saying it was blocking his relationship with God. "I had to forgive the priest that molested me so I could have a relationship with God."
Kotyk described how he came to forgive Fr. Rebovich as a mystical experience. It was on New Year's Eve going into 2000. He was alone and directionless and following his failed marriage. He attributed a lot of his recovery to counseling he had, but always carried the sadness with him.
I laced up my shoes and went for a walk and I just cried out, "God, please help me. Help me to forgive Fr. John," and it was as though God reached down and put His hand on me. I just felt the weight, the heavy weight and sadness that I had been carrying for years and years, being taken away from me. It was at that moment that I began to heal and to move on from the abuse.
"Most victims haven't returned to the Church," he said. In his own family, he is the only one of his five siblings that still goes to Mass. The abuse crisis has alienated many of the faithful, and Kotyk wants people to see the beauty of the Faith and experience God's gift of forgiveness that he feels.
He insists he's "just a regular guy" and said, "If I can overcome, anyone can overcome with God's grace and help."