When Forgiveness Is Thwarted

News: Commentary
by Fr Paul John Kalchik  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 17, 2022   

Pardon is much easier said than done

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Jesus' commandment to forgive those who hurt you is a difficult task. People who try to forgive often get thwarted in the process by obstacles the Devil puts in the way, making it easier to succumb to the desire for vengeance.

Crucifixion of Jesus

We often fall far short of being true disciples of Jesus. Christ Himself said from the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

In my own life, forgiving the priest who abused me was exacerbated because — apart from my pastor, Fr. Albert Corbo, my spiritual director and my own parents — few believed me or wanted to listen. 

On the very day the abuse took place, I reported the abuse to Fr. Corbo. I stood next to him as he immediately made calls to the chancellery of the archdiocese of Chicago to report the incident.

Despite Fr. Corbo's report to the chancellery staff about the abuse I had suffered by a Chicago priest earlier that morning, no one from the chancellery contacted me. Neither was any follow-up investigation ever commenced or completed — as if nothing had ever happened.

When people who claim to be Catholic and are also paid to handle these kinds of things show no concern for a victim, what are victims supposed to think? Who can they go to for justice?

The scandal-ridden Cdl. Joseph Bernardin, prelate of Chicago at the time of my abuse, received loads of accolades for social justice. But his Chicago chancellery staff in 1982 were not attentive to me as a victim of clerical sexual predation. In fact, they showed zero concern and dispensed no justice, treating innumerable other victims the same way.

Special Report: Bernardin: Homosexual Predator Satanist

My attempts to explain why I walked off my job at the site of my abuse, Villa Scalabrini, a large Catholic nursing home in Northlake, fell on deaf ears. The sexually abused often conclude that it's better not to talk about what happened and try to forget it. The problem, as victims of sex abuse realize, is that you can't just forget it.

What did help me, for a time, was leaving Chicago to study. So I left Chicago in August of 1982, traveling to Detroit, where I attended school as a postulant with the Franciscans.

University of Detroit Mercy

In the fall of 1982, I tried to share what happened with friends, but it was a futile endeavor. Most of my classmates at University of Detroit Mercy (a Jesuit institution, mind you) could not wrap their minds around how a priest could be sexually abusive. Their experience of priests, for the most part, was limited to seeing them offer Mass and going to them for confession.

In the spring of 1983, I finished my postulancy with the friars, graduated from the university with bachelor's degrees in psychology and philosophy, then moved to Cincinnati for my novitiate. 

It was easier to forget the abuse when I was busy studying far away in the Queen City. But, after my return to Chicago, the memory of the abuse came back and hit me like a ton of bricks.


Catholic Theological Union (1967)

(Photo: ChicagoCatholic)

I returned as a friar for graduate studies at Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park. And as I went back and forth to classes each day, the night of abuse came back with a vengeance. It could not be forgotten. It could not be denied, particularly when the site for the abuse was only a couple of miles away.

It was not only the familiar surroundings that brought back the abuse that I tried so hard to suppress. At social gatherings, the flamboyant antics and affectations of fellow religious classmates at CTU forced me to take pause. These were the same classmates who presented themselves as orthodox in the classroom, wearing traditional habits of their religious community and talking about St. Thomas Aquinas. But at informal evening gatherings, with their habits closeted, they acted very gay.

The exhibitions of these homosexual so-called religious men, especially after a drink or two, were enough to bring the ugly abuse back. It's hard to forget homosexual predation when homosexuals flaunt their sinful lifestyles in your face.

Most of the religious at these gatherings were in some stage of vowed life, simple or permanent. To see the "simply vowed" religious behave in this sinful way, hanging on to one another as if their vow of chastity was a lark, was too much for me to stomach.

After a year and a half at CTU, I decided to chuck it all. So when my simple vows expired on Dec. 12, 1985, I left the Franciscans and CTU. After seven years as a Franciscan, the friars showed me the door, giving me $500 for my efforts.

But God provides. And just days later, on Christmas Eve, I went to a job interview and landed it! 

One huge blessing in the aftermath of leaving the friars was that I could get on with my life and put the abuse behind me for good. Or so I thought.

Back in the 1980s, a straight guy could still more or less live and work in Chicago without gays shoving their lifestyle in his face. Men did not yet wave rainbow flags all over the workplace to advertise their homosexual preference. On the other hand, in religious life, ironically, there was already a lot of rainbow flag waving.

Fr. James Martin and Fr. Bryan Massingale

During that time, men like James Martin and Bryan Massingale — flag wavers extraordinaire — were not yet pumping their LGBT ideology into the Church (Martin entered formation with the Jesuits in the late 1980s).

Gay and pro-gay clerics at that time were more low-key with their evil promulgation. Things became more explicit as time went on, as bishops either outright supported them or were silent. I know many straight men who, while they did a stint in the seminary, were repulsed by the perverse teaching they were exposed to.

God gifted me with a great job on Christmas Eve in 1985 that helped me heal. I landed a position at ARISE, an agency that cared for people with autism. I became the manager for ARISE's children's home. It was the first home of its kind for children with autism in the state of Illinois.

After working at ARISE for a year and a half, I took another great job as assistant director at Clearbrook, one of the largest social service agencies in Illinois for the developmentally disabled.  

I moved along a sure path at Clearbrook. First as assistant director, then as director of vocation training and finally as director of residential. My work here also proved to be of great help to my healing. When I resigned from my position years later, it was to return to pursue the calling of my childhood — the priesthood.

So in 1995, I decided to apply to the archdiocesan seminary. 

I was a different man, confident, sure of myself and in charge of my life and my person. I knew I was never again going to let someone blindside or take sexual advantage of me.

Mundelein Seminary at St. Mary of the Lake

Long story short, I contacted the archdiocese of Chicago and applied to Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake. I was accepted, and in four years' time completed an S.T.B., a Master of Divinity degree and got a good start on my licentiate in systematic theology. On May 22, 1999, I was ordained a priest. 

Despite my relatively smooth sailing there, the years I studied at Mundelein were made famous — some say infamous — by Michael Rose's landmark bookGoodbye, Good Men. According to Rose, it was a time at Mundelein when straight, conservative seminarians had to lie low. The homosexual takeover of the seminaries was nearing completion. 

I was able to hide from the gay madness by holing up in the library basement. I had a complete office set up in one of its back corners, and, as the English say, "I kept myself to myself."

I was 36 and in the prime of my life. Administrators frequently used me for promotional photo ops for the vocations office. This made the gay seminarians confused and maybe a little angry — a guy used for promos who was not gay. This was heresy in their world.

Thankfully, I kept my eyes fixed on Christ and worked at staying close to Him.

As I write this, I can easily compose in my head a list of the homosexual seminarians from those days, who, shortly after ordination, were defrocked. What a waste of the laity's time and money to educate and ordain these men. What treason to the Church!

During those years at the seminary, and for the first couple of years after my ordination, the sexual predation of my youth was far from my mind. I went about my day-to-day business as a priest and never gave it much thought. But this was to be all turned upside down in 2002 when the Boston Globe published Spotlight: Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis.

The Boston Globe investigation brought what happened to me decades earlier into the spotlight. After the exposé, what previously had never been talked about now became common breakfast conversation.

I remember clearly, during the first part of 2002, the topic of homosexual-priest predation came up at Chicago's St. Michael's Church where I was a resident while teaching at Quigley Preparatory Seminary. Saint Michael's had been blessed with generations of good, faithful priests, the antithesis of what the Globe was exposing.

News Report: Continuing the Cover-Up

In the vestibule of St. Michael's, the parishioners were, down to the last one, in agreement that The Boston Globe reporters were out to discredit the Church. They would say things like "priests are not homosexuals" and "they do not prey on boys" and "these so-called victims are lying." They could not believe it!

The devout parishioners only knew the excellent priests that they had been blessed with during their lives. From their experience, they could not fathom the Globe reports. As they had no experience themselves with the horror of clerical sexual predation, they could not accept it as a reality.

In that church vestibule, I could not lie to those sincere Catholic men and women. I had to tell them the ugly truth. This was the first time I would ever tell the story of my homosexual victimization in public. I said something along these lines to them, as they listened with their mouths agape:

When I was 19, I was raped by a Scalabrinian priest at Villa Scalabrini. I was an orderly at that nursing home, and this rape took place during the night shift. The very day the rape took place, I reported it to Church authorities. But my report fell on deaf ears, and this priest would go on to sexually molest others. The reports that you are hearing are probably all true. Don't dismiss them too quickly.

I had to walk away. Talking about it brought back the abuse. I walked back to the sacristy alone, accompanied only by my tears.

In the following weeks, the Boston scandal would become known far and wide, generating attacks on faithful priests.

One attack hit me one evening at a south Chicago soup kitchen. A man spotted me in my clerics behind the counter and cursed me. "What's that f*****g homopredator priest doing here?," he screamed.

The man's words stung. How horrible it is that the sins of homopredator priests get passed on even to those victimized by them.

My response at that time was this: "Enjoy your meal. Cursing is not permitted in this church hall. If you do so again, you will be escorted out." 

Later that night, back in my own room, I fumed. I was angry about what the man said and angry about the abuse I suffered all those years earlier. It felt almost like I was being assaulted once again.

Fr. Lawrence Cozzi

For 20 years, no one in the chancellery had addressed my complaint or disciplined the priest who raped me, Fr. Lawrence Cozzi. Father Cozzi would remain the administrator at Villa Scalabrini until his death.

It was becoming more apparent to many Catholics that chancelleries were actually hiding the homosexual predation perpetrated by priests like Cozzi. They were pulling the wool over the eyes of the faithful.

Simply, the bishops and chancellery officials were not doing their jobs. Their failure of supervision was manifesting itself in Chicago and all over the world.

My anger ratcheted up more and more as I realized what happened to me was not an isolated case. Homosexual predation by clerics was rampant.

The predation I suffered two decades earlier, far from being forgotten, was now once again at the forefront of my mind.

In the winter of that year, as I read the Boston Globe articles, Our Lord's mandate: "Forgive those who hurt you" was not uppermost in my eyes. It was too soon for me to forgive an abuser for his crime when he had gotten away with it. Forgiving the person who raped me was further thwarted when I saw the abuser continuing to abuse others — and his cronies in the hierarchy covering up for it.

Over the last 60 years, bishops have abandoned their duty to supervise and discipline their priests. In so doing, they have lost the respect of the faithful. Many victims of priestly sexual predation, when confronted with the sad reality that they will not see justice in this world for the crimes they endured, have walked away from the Church.

Dallas Charter

I saw a glimmer of hope in the promulgation of the Dallas Charter published in 2002. Signed by the U.S. bishops, with promises of zero tolerance for clerics who sexually abuse minors. It seemed, at the time, a godsend. In the aftermath of its being adopted in many dioceses, I was pleased. Finally, I thought, bishops were going to cull these bad men from the priesthood. 

For the first couple of years after the Dallas Charter, I did witness firsthand some bad apples being removed from the priesthood. But one serious flaw with the Charter was that it only addressed predators who preyed on minors. But for victims like me, raped in a work situation at age 19, the charter made no difference.

The charter's focus on minors fueled my pent-up anger. I came to realize that, despite the passage of 20 years, I was still very angry. I was an angry priest. 

For the most part, I kept my anger in check. But it would show itself in strange ways. For example, the sight of large, fat men angered — and repulsed — me, because their outward appearance reminded me of my abuser.

My abuser, Lawrence Cozzi, was a big, corpulent man. I had to avoid any man who looked like him. I would find myself wanting to say snide things to them. My abuser might have been dead — he died in 1999 — but to me, these men represented substitutes for him.

This is an example of how abuse plays out in myriad ways, even years after the victimization.

Another way the abuse played out in my life, especially after the Globe articles, was in flashbacks.

I came to realize that, despite the passage of 20 years, I was still very angry. I was an angry priest.

One big trigger was the sound of a door being closed and bolted. My abuse occurred in a dark room where the abuser bolted a door shut.

So as the new millennium unfolded, I had some serious issues to deal with — while I was leading the flock as a newly ordained priest. I was angry about being abused. I was angry about the Church leaders' poor handling of the problem.

It was then that the flashbacks returned with a vengeance.

In the aftermath of having a flashback, with the abuse once again vividly in your mind, your blood pressure races, your mind reels and your anxiety knows no bounds. 

Often, the only way I could deal with a bad flashback was to withdraw to my room, which is far from "functional" behavior for anyone.

To cope, I sought advice from my good father. He gave me the best advice, but I wasn't ready for it. He told me to "try to forget and forgive those men."

"If only I could forget what happened! Then, maybe, I could forgive," I thought. It was such a spiritual conundrum. How could I move forward and forgive my abusers when I still suffered flashbacks from the abuse? My ire at the abuse was always just below the surface. Then again, how could I develop and mature as a priest and serve my flock if I could not follow Christ's mandate to forgive those who hurt me?

One blessing at this time was the benefit of good professional help, to begin the process of settling the abuse and its aftereffects: the anger, the fears and the flashbacks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Another blessing was the strides being made by some in caring for abuse victims and exposing the evil. The military conflicts that our nation went through in the 20th century meant many soldiers would return home suffering from combat trauma, a type of post-traumatic stress disorder. This served as the catalyst for therapists to develop effective ways to help those suffering from PTSD, including victims of sexual assault.

I was able to find a balance — not denying it, or repressing it, but initiating a number of therapies with good therapists who helped me put the abuse behind me for good.

The three therapies that proved effective in this effort were cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitizing and reprocessing and regular participation in a victim's support group.

By 2010, after going through the regimen of these therapies, I could finally say that I had put the pain and anger of the abuse behind me. I could now talk about the abuse and not get all choked up.

I could also begin to write about it in a clear fashion and seldom suffered anymore from flashbacks. With the pain and anger behind me, I could now work on forgiving the priest who abused me.

The abuse was not forgotten. But with its lingering aftereffects mitigated, I could now move forward and ask God for the grace to forgive my abusers. 

In time, God gave me the grace to forgive Fr. Cozzi. These days I pray for him. I pray that before his death, he was enabled by God's mercy to repent of the harm he did.

I now find consolation in the fact that since he is dead, he cannot harm anyone else, and that God, just judge that He is, has executed His justice. 

When I talk with other abuse victims, I hear them repeatedly tell me how they have been thwarted in coming to terms with the abuse they've endured. They tell me how they have been arrested psychologically and stalled spiritually.

God gave me the grace to forgive Fr. Cozzi.

They ask me, "How can I think of forgiving the man who abused me when all I have in my heart is anger and hate for him?"

I understand the herculean chore of moving beyond abuse to spiritual and psychological health when there are so many obstacles: family members far from understanding, Church authorities not disciplining and removing bad clerics and therapists incompetent or ineffective in their treatments.

The good news is that, with God's grace, moving beyond abuse to spiritual and psychological health is possible.

In my own journey these past 40 years, I thank God for the many good friends He has put in my path to help. I thank my parents, for their many prayers offered for my well-being and their faithful advice, and the good therapists who helped me in coping with anger and pain.

A dear friend who intervened on my behalf when I was at my worst, got in my face and said, "Remember, Paul, 'Rome was not built in a day.' Take some time to deal with all this. Settle this well so that you can move on."

I took her advice to heart. Now, forty years later, I can say I have been healed — and most importantly, have forgiven those who have abused me. May God be praised!

My prayers are with the multitude of abuse victims who, like me, have had their healing process thwarted, those who are struggling at this very moment. May the Almighty remove any and all hindrances to their recovery.

--- Campaign 31877 ---


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