Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Altar boy abused

Ex-altar boy's bonds of trust broken
Metro Detroit man is struggling to cope with the aftereffects of sexual abuse

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The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit says it knows of 145 people who have reported being sexually abused by priests.

But they don't know about Matthew Jatczak.

For several years, Jatczak says he has wrested with recollections of being molested by a young priest who befriended his family when he was an altar boy at a metro Detroit church.

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The man -- whom the 31-year-old has not named publicly -- left the priesthood after several years. But Jatczak says before the priest disappeared from his life, the priest took him and an older brother on overnight field trips, to the Lake Michigan shore and once on a trip to Wisconsin.

At night, in a hotel room or a lakeside home, Jatczak said the priest would share a bed with him and touch him in ways that left him scared, ashamed and confused.

"It got worse and worse, and I pretended to be asleep. I was afraid nobody would believe me if I spoke up. I was told it was a secret and asked to keep it, and I did," said Jatczak. "We were kids, and we were trained to trust people in authority. And sometimes they're really monsters when they're supposed to be preaching the word of God."

Advocating for survivors
Two decades after the alleged abuse, Jatczak is confronting the aftereffects. He's joined the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and is leading a start-up chapter in Detroit.

Jatczak has not spoken to law enforcement officials or church authorities about the alleged abuse yet, which is why the Free Press is not identifying the former priest or the parish.

"I hope he brings his complaint forward," Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Ned McGrath said Friday, after hearing about Jatczak.

The acknowledgment of abuse, years after it allegedly happened, is not unusual.

"I suspect that we have not heard from all the victims," Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads 1.4 million Catholics in the six-county Detroit archdiocese, said last week. "I'd like to hear from them... and I do want to know.

"I believe them."

The tally of 145 people who allege they were sexually molested as minors by priests in the Detroit diocese dates to 1950. Just since 2004, 29 people have come forward, all of them with complaints against clerics who have been removed from ministry, McGrath said.

Activists are pressing American Catholic dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Detroit, to release the names of every priest who has a legitimate abuse charge against him. SNAP has said that revealing the names of credibly accused priests would give victims the affirmation they need to come forward.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has identified on its Web site priests disciplined for abuse allegations since 1988. But the archdiocese won't release the names of deceased priests who were accused -- which victim advocates say minimizes the scope of the scandal and further victimizes those who have been abused.

The church argues that the deaths made it impossible to verify charges.

"Our practice is and remains to not list the names of those involved unless we can establish credibility consistent with those we have listed," McGrath said.

The fact that some continue to hold long-buried secrets about priest abuse was underscored locally this summer when several Lansing-area men revealed to church authorities that they were abused as children by the Rev. John Martin, who died in 1968.

In August, Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea took the unusual step of revealing publicly that Martin had molested altar boys in the 1950s and 1960s at a Laingsburg parish.

Boyea found out about the abuse when two of the victims, now in their 50s and 60s, came forward to diocese officials. Making their accounts public, said Boyea, encouraged other victims to come forward. To date, nine men have told Lansing officials that they were molested by Martin.

Prosecution unlikely
Jatczak, a legal assistant, said he first started coming to grips with what happened to him with the outpouring of publicity in 2002, when newspaper stories extensively detailed the Catholic Church's failures in dealing with abusive priests.

"I didn't realize the extent of what happened until my early 20s. I kind of blocked a lot out," said Jatczak.

"My family took a liking to him, and formed the bonds of trust. He was part of the church and he was respect," said Jatczak. "He would invite my brother and I.... He'd take us skiing and golfing. Most of the time, it involved staying the night in a hotel or somewhere else.

"The sleeping arrangements during those excursions would be I'd be in the bed with him and watching TV, and that's when things started happening."

It is unlikely that Jatczak's alleged abuser will face prosecution for his actions because too many years have passed under Michigan's statute of limitations to bring charges. Jatczak said the abuse happened beginning in the late 1980s and continued until the mid-1990s.

Jatczak said he told his parents of the abuse this summer, writing a letter to his mother that she found after he left to attend the SNAP annual conference. The priest did not molest his brother, Jatczak said.

His parents' reaction, he said, was a "combination of shock, anger and sadness."

"This is the most horrible thing in the world to deal with," Jatczak's mother, Kathy Jatczak, said in an e-mail. "My heart has been ripped to shreds, and every day is hell."

Mother's pain
Until recently, Kathy Jatczak worked as a Catholic school elementary teacher, a fact that seems to compound her pain. She recalled meeting the outgoing newcomer at their church. The Jatczak family invited the young priest over for dinners and found him charming and funny, and attentive to the kids

They stayed in touch after he left the priesthood, Jatczak's mother said.

Four years ago, Matthew Jatczak checked himself into a psychiatric hospital because of serious depression and "to get my head straight." He recently separated from his wife, after 21/2 years of marriage. The abuse, he believes, contributed to his being hypersensitive to criticism, quick to find fault and emotionally immature.

Jatczak has retained Dearborn lawyer Kevin Peters in order to determine whether he has a case for a lawsuit. He doesn't know what has become of his alleged abuser or whether the man can be brought to justice.

But Jatczak does know that what he's doing now is trying to transform himself, from a victim to a survivor.

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