A mother's anguish

Beneath the clergy sex-abuse headlines is a lifetime of suffering.

I AM A MOTHER OF A SON WHO WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED by our parish priest. Since the exposure of this grim period in our church, I have wondered where I went wrong. Why did I fail to protect my son from the horrific abuse he suffered for more than four years?

I am the product of 16 years of Catholic education, having been raised in a conservative Catholic family where we were never allowed to talk negatively about our clergy or religious. I accepted what they did and said as coming from God. Not even the fact that I was a child protective services worker opened my eyes to the signs of the gross pedophilia of our parish priest.

We always warned our children of “stranger danger,” but it never occurred to us to tell our son to beware of our pastor. Father Maurice Grammond started sexually abusing young boys shortly after his ordination. When parents complained to the archdiocese, he was moved to another parish. Thus began a long history of abuse and cover-up. Grammond was allowed to serve in our parish in Seaside, Oregon for 19 years despite reports to the archdiocese of which our parish was unaware.

When our son Peter was 10 years old, he became an altar boy. It wasn’t long after he began his training that he was raped. Grammond told him he would be killed if he told. I am still haunted by the fact that I saw the blood in Peter’s underpants in the laundry. When I asked him about it, he said he hurt himself on his bike. Peter remembers coming home that day and seeing his dad reading the paper at the kitchen table. He felt such shame and guilt that he couldn’t talk to him. The rape and torture he endured was the first of many Grammond inflicted on him.

Grammond often used drugs to quiet his victims. He also bought bikes and rifles for some of them. On Sundays all the altar boys went swimming in a local hotel pool. Only later did we discover that Grammond helped them dress so he would have another opportunity to molest them. The rectory kitchen counter was always filled with candy and cookies for the boys who served. As part of his cover-up, Grammond had a bell installed at the bottom of the stairs leading to his bedrooms.

When, as an adult, Peter revealed to me the horrific abuse he had suffered, I didn’t know where to turn. I also saw the suffering among our good priests. I even wrote a published letter in their defense. I sought out another mother whose sons were victimized. She and I have been our own support group as none was organized by the archdiocese.

There has been much talk about the healing of victims, but the church still has a long way to go in reaching out to victims and their families.

In our archdiocese, no real reconciliation efforts have been made to the families of victims. These victims were not raised in a vacuum, nor are they living isolated lives. Where is the church when their lives fall apart? Whom can the families call on when they see their loved ones in agony, suicidal, despairing of ever leading a normal life because of their abuse? How many mothers’ mental, physical, and spiritual health has been damaged by sleepless nights, guilt, and regret for trusting in our spiritual leaders?

Why is our church still more interested in power and money than in seeing the reality of both the past and present? Money can’t and won’t cure it. Money cannot begin to compensate for the absolute horror that my son and the children of many other mothers have gone through and are still going through.

We buried Peter on March 3. He was one of many who have committed suicide because of sexual abuse by a priest. He could no longer live with his terrible memories. Though Peter received a financial settlement, it did not include ongoing medical care. He died owing $24,000 for treatment. Future lawsuit settlements need to include payment for insurance for ongoing treatment of the victims.

I pray that openness becomes a part of our church. I pray also that other parents not be so trusting with their precious children. And I ask that the church provide counseling and support for the parents and siblings of all the victims.

Finally I pray that the persons who were in power when these abuses took place—those who were involved in making decisions that allowed pedophile priests to continue to serve—be held accountable and sanctioned.

Joan Ryan lives in Seaside, Oregon. This article appeared in the August 2005 (Volume 70, Number 8; page 51) issue of U.S. Catholic.

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