By William Verdad
Intro by Sarah E. Murphy
It was February 2019, and I was packing for my first trip to Rome, when I received a Facebook message from a friend thanking me for an article I had just written about clergy sex abuse. In it I shared the story of a man in my hometown of Falmouth, Massachusetts, now in his early fifties, who endured a decade of abuse at the hands of Monsignor Maurice Souza at St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth. We were following his story to Vatican City, where we would peacefully protest the Pope’s summit that was called to supposedly address the issue. My friend could relate to the experience of finally speaking his truth after so many years, for he too was coming to terms with what happened to him as a boy in another Massachusetts town, at St. Brigid’s Parish in Lexington in the late 1960s.
Earlier this week, he decided it was time to come forward and name his abuser, the late Reverend John Patrick “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, in the hope of helping not only himself, but other survivors, and offering families of survivors a window into their loved ones. Perhaps this has happened to someone in your life, but he or she isn’t ready to come forward. Or perhaps that person has blocked it all out. My friend is tired of shouldering the burden of misplaced shame that accompanies keeping secret an experience no child or adult should ever endure. While he isn’t ready to be identified by his own name just yet, he doesn’t want to be a proverbial “John Doe.” He’s chosen the name William “Verdad” for a reason, for it translates to “Determined Guardian of Truth.”
This is his story…
Speaking My Truth
by William Verdad
I need to get this on paper, or “out there,” so to speak. My experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse represents one of thousands, maybe millions. I am a statistic, but it’s finally time to share the actual words and story with the people it could potentially help. Abuse of this kind alters lives drastically and permanently.
When I was a child, I was raped about a dozen times by two priests from my childhood parish. I blocked out the experience for over 40 years.
I am now 60 years old.
I finally began to remember about ten years ago, when I ran out of money for drugs and alcohol, and moved to my brother’s house to dry out. It took months, but one day it all finally started to come back. John and I were watching Mystic River, a film I had tried to watch a few times but always walked away from as soon as it got difficult. This time it triggered something.
“I just thought of when I was a lector as a young boy. I read from the Bible at mass a couple of times, didn’t I?” I looked to him to validate my recollection.
“Yes, but probably more like a dozen times,” he said.
This news was significant in putting the pieces together, as John’s memory has always been better than mine, and he is older, so I knew it must be true.
I began firing questions at him, starting with my age at the time. Nine or ten was his response.
Then it hit me – the church said I had been chosen as the youngest boy ever to read the Bible to a Roman Catholic crowd. Ever. Suddenly this seemed incredulous. Wow….ever?! That’s pretty noteworthy. How had I forgotten that for so long?
Bits and pieces began to come back. My mother and the whole family were so proud. What an honor.
I remember thinking, ‘why me?’ I didn’t ask for this. I am horribly dyslexic and can’t even read that well. Actually, I am terrified, but everyone seems so proud and excited, so I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I’ll practice a lot and I’ll be okay.
It was always Father “Fitz” and another priest who gave me my assigned reading, and each time, no matter how much I read it, I still didn’t really get the meaning; the words were unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. They would pull me out of religious education class (which was held in a building on church grounds), and we’d go to the basement to rehearse my reading.
At first I welcomed the chance to practice, since I was dreading having to read in front of hundreds of people on those Sunday mornings. Next, I remembered asking them why we didn’t actually practice when we were in the basement. Their demeanor changed in an instant from being sweet and complimentary to cruel and harsh.
The same thing happened when I questioned why my pants were belted at a different hole and my shirt was tucked in a way that I would never do. Oh, they got so very angry when I asked that.
I noticed that when they brought me back to class, much more time had seemed to pass than made sense. Although it was held on Thursday afternoons for two hours after regular school, we referred to it as “Sunday School.” I recalled getting in trouble often with my teacher for falling asleep at my desk after returning from the basement. This happened many times, but at the time, I was just glad that it made the day seem shorter.
A few weeks after the incident watching the movie, more memories returned to me one night in a dream.
Waking up in that basement, everything very foggy, only the shaking light of the high cellar window slowly coming into rhythmic focus. Feeling something behind me and being grabbed by it. Does he have his finger in my bum? What is this? He was much older, and I heard him snap at the younger priest, who quickly put a cloth doused in something over my face.
The memories continued. I would read the verses once, then they would put a cloth over my mouth and nose and put me face-down on a high table. Waking back up every time to one holding me upright and the other waving an amyl nitrate in my face. I later asked them what they had done to me. Was it a medical thing? I had no real understanding of sex, but did remember doctors putting thermometers into my anus. They were very, very angry at my question and said it was a bit like that, but it must be kept secret and that I was special.
Then it began to be a threat that if I told anyone I would break my mother’s heart. They said if I didn’t stay quiet they would take the big Easter reading away from me, and that was a huge honor.
I kept my mouth shut. I loved my mother so much, and she was so proud. But at one of the Sunday readings, I was massively nervous. It was a lot of letters from Paul to the Corinthians, stuff I didn’t get. I was a kid who asked a lot of questions, and they didn’t like that. I asked if I could read something easier that I could understand; I think I even suggested something from the Psalms, something about love or helping friends. This also made them very angry, so I didn’t ask again.
I got through the reading and I had to wait in the wings to read again. I was with the two altar boys. One of them was a year or so younger than me. He was small but seemed so much older. His eyes were very dark and sunken.
As the mass was in progress he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “Did they fuck you yet?”
“What?” I said, completely shocked.
“Did they have sex with you yet?”
I didn’t even understand what he was saying. “But they’re men. A man can’t have sex with another man,” I responded.
“Yes they can. In the ass,” he said, pointing to his own butt.
I became upset and repeated more loudly, “A man can only have sex with a woman!”
Next thing I knew, an angry priest came over to us telling us to never speak to each other while mass was in progress.
The last thing I remember about it all was how kind they were to me at first, and how special they made me feel, followed by the confusion and pain of being chastised and shunned for being bad. I never understood what I had done wrong or what I did to deserve it.
I’ve carried this with me for the past five decades, trying to block it out and keep it all down with lots of drugs, drinking, and drama. Those evil parasites scarred me for life, and aside from a handful of people in my life, no one knew about it until now. Or did they? Those who enable and cover-up for these predators are just as guilty, so I’m sharing my story in the hopes of saving another innocent life from being shattered. And if you’re reading this and you know this pain firsthand, I hope you know you’re not alone.
August 7, 2020