“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” Mitchell Garabedian said in the 2015 movie “Spotlight.”
I watched this movie last week for the third time. Even then, I did not realize how relevant the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic church still is today.
Nor did I think that it would hit so close to home.
Last Wednesday, it was revealed that a former Connecticut priest is being accused of sexual abuse toward Kevin Distasio, an altar boy at the Waterbury Blessed Sacrament Church in 1980.
The Waterbury Church is only half an hour away from Quinnipiac.
Now, 38 years later, 46-year-old Distasio is suing.
“When he was about 10 years old and serving as an altar boy, the suit alleges he [Vichas] sexually abused Distasio before an early morning Mass while he was putting on his vestments in the church,” Jonathan Shugarts, a Republican American reporter, said on Nov. 7.
Despite the fact that Reverend Walter Vichas died 10 years ago, the case is still on track, with the Hartford Catholic Diocesan Corporation as the lead defendant.
What bothers me the most is, before these issues draw any kind of attention, they must require one of two key traits: magnitude or proximity. Why is it that we, as a society, decide things must change when they happen right outside our door? Or when the problem grows so large that everyone is forced to look?
This is not the first case of negligence of the priests under the supervision of the Diocesan Corporation. In 2015, Jacob Doe came forward to say that he was molested by Father Ivan Ferguson as a child, according to the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut added that, at the time that Ferguson was originally appointed as the director of Saint Mary’s Elementary School, he was an alcoholic who publicly admitted that his acts of child molestation were tied to his drinking.
It was not only known by the corporation that he was susceptible to an alcohol addiction. He was previously admitted to the Saint Luke Institute for observation where they would first “work with his chemical dependence and then his emotional and psychological problems over a four to six month period,” the Supreme Court of Connecticut reported.
Shortly after that period, upon the advising of Father Gene Gianelli (who oversaw the case) and Archbishop John Whealon at the Diocesan Corporation, Ferguson was assigned to “serve full-time as assistant pastor of Saint Mary’s Parish” and then as a director of Saint Mary’s School shortly after.
The plaintiff, Jacob Doe, and his friend, R, quickly became favorites of Ferguson at Saint Mary’s. This friendship was considered to be a privilege by all students at the school.
However, this came with a price. Ferguson would invite the boys “to restaurants and for sleepovers at the rectory.”
He would also “molest the plaintiff and R both on and off the grounds” of the school and “step in for the female gym teacher to supervise the male students in the communal shower after physical education classes.” The court also added that “he would soap the boys’ backs and make comments about their genitals.”
Thankfully, the Ferguson case was settled in a $1 million settlement to the plaintiff for compensation.
Despite that the settlement resulted in a large sum of money, the number of emotional damages far outweigh the cash profits.
As mentioned above, the movie “Spotlight” tells the true story of a group of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe in 2001. The Boston Globe Spotlight team uncovered a complex and broad web of molesting by priests, which were consistently covered up the Roman Catholic church in the late 1900’s. The priests would be assigned to a different church, depending on the severity of the case.
Hundreds of people came forward to share their own stories after the Globe wrote their initial story. Many of them never gained the same profits that Doe received.
While some may dismiss this as a problem resolving with time, let me rest assure you that it continues to this day.
“A Pennsylvania grand jury named more than 300 clergy in a report which found more than 1,000 children had been abused” this past August, according to the BBC. In June, the BBC reported that, “a former Vatican diplomat was sentenced to five years in prison for child pornography offences.”
There are thousands of kids, like Distasio, who deal with men like Vichas. Yet, this long standing issue of sexual abuse under the supervision of the church is preventable.
Why is it that we allow this mindset of willful ignorance to persevere?