Catholic Crimes: a Survivor’s Story

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.

William Verdad

August 7, 2020 

Children of the Sea: For Courtney

By Sarah E. Murphy

As small, suburban flowers

we were replanted

in more nourishing, salty soil

and the ocean soon became

the backdrop of our lives.

It roared to us on ghostly winter nights

while we burrowed in tiny beds

assuring us we’d soon return.

And so we did.

For at the close of each school year

our sandals found their way to water’s edge

dreading the red swimsuits

and noses greased with sunblock warpaint. 

Instead we prayed for rainy days

too stormy to practice the crawl

so we could revel in the warmth

of off-season sweats

huddled around the Pentas’ TV

watching Ghostbusters and Meatballs 

on a rented VCR from Zoom Video.

And now the sea 

which always joined us 

divides us

as you embark on a semester 

in our ancestral land.

On your last night

while packing

your relinquished your sandals

knowing you wouldn’t be needing them for awhile

so now I’m literally walking around in your shoes. 

I only hope you return as promised 

to collect them

for you’ve always followed your own lead

going left when Mom would say right

a cat always landing on all fours.

You who grew up before I could blink

suddenly singing effortlessly 

for strangers 

while I, the stage mother

stood on the sidelines

clapping louder than anyone. 

Come home to us, baby sister.

You must be missing your shoes. 

Sarah E. Murphy/December 1996

Picking up Courtney at Logan Airport after her semester in Maynooth, December 1996.

Just Write It: Creativity in Covid America

By Sarah E. Murphy

I recently visited my brother T.M. Murphy’s Monday morning session of The Just Write It Class in Falmouth Heights. Thankfully Covid-19 hasn’t cancelled the 2020 season of this long-standing summer tradition, now in its 25th year. Since he first started teaching in The Writers’ Shack, Ted has encouraged kids to follow their dreams and creative aspirations through writing and storytelling.

The rustic ambiance of the Shack, where we once hung out in our youth, lends itself to inspiration, and the exposed beams are now covered not only with tattered U2 posters, but the signatures of students past and present, and further evidence of their prolific work in Ted’s class.  Additionally, the act of writing lends itself to social distancing, so with safety precautions in place, it’s been business as usual for these aspiring young writers. Classes are offered for ages 9-12; 12-15; and 16-19. Each two-hour session consists of group instruction through writing prompts, followed by free writes, enabling students to come away from each class with a rough draft, work-in-progress, or finished product. Students also get the chance to practice public speaking, as they share their work at the podium. After each reading, their classmates offer feedback, but there’s one rule: constructive criticism only. The supportive environment results in the forming of new and lasting friendships. 

Ruthie is a rising sixth-grader at Morse Pond School in Falmouth. Like the rest of the Monday morning writers, she’s a returning student to the Just Write It Class. 

“I like how we can meet with friends we made last year, and that even though there’s a pandemic going on, we’re still able to do this and have fun,” she said. 

Lila agreed. “It’s nice to spend time with people who aren’t my family and to have something to do other than sitting at home.”

Will enjoys the structure of The Just Write It Class. “I can write freely and experiment with all my ideas,” he said. 

Caitlin also appreciates having that creative freedom. “I like being able to write about whatever I want instead of being given an assignment,” she said. Witches is one of her favorite subjects, and one of her many stories hangs prominently in the Shack. 

Max and Cullen have become fast friends and creative collaborators; they’re currently working on a story together. 

“I wanted to take this class again because it lets me be more imaginative,” Cullen said. “I can write about whatever is in my mind.”

Max credited the teacher for setting the tone, which he believes contributes to the overall atmosphere.  “I like how Ted has a certain sense of humor. He’s actually funny,” he said. “Having a teacher like that helps you make a certain connection, and it just makes you want to learn more.”

A few spaces are available for the final summer session of The Just Write It Class, for ages 9-12, beginning Wednesday, August 5 from 8:45-10:45 am. To register, contact Ted Murphy at tmmurphywriter@gmail.com or on Facebook and Instagram.