“He asked me if I could help him, and I said sure, that sounds innocent enough,” said a Rockville Centre man who claimed that he was sexually abused for 10 years by a priest at St. Agnes Cathedral.
“That’s how it began,” said the 48-year-old man, who asked the Herald not to reveal his identity, “and then it went from there to if I could go into the shower with him and help him so that he wouldn’t fall down.”
The man, who was raised Catholic in Rockville Centre and still lives in the village, was an altar boy for several years. In 1983, he met the Rev. John J. McGeever, who he claims abused him until McGeever died in 1993.
The man is being represented by Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has handled hundreds of sexual abuse cases and was portrayed in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s exposé detailing abuse allegations against priests in Boston. The man filed his claims on Oct. 25, in an application as part of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
The program, modeled after those created in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn over the past year to help victims of abuse by priests and deacons gain some form of closure, launched last month. It is designed to grant financial settlements to victims who cannot file child sexual abuse lawsuits against the church due to New York’s statute of limitations.
“There isn’t any amount of money a sexual abuse victim wouldn’t exchange for not being sexually abused,” Garabedian told the Herald. “The monetary amount is only validation.”
Before the abuse began, McGeever offered money to the man, who was 14 at the time, in exchange for doing work around the church after altar boy practices. The man grew up poor, he said, and accepted it. From there, he said, McGeever, who had a bad leg, would ask him to help stretch it as part of his physical therapy, and later to shower with him so that he wouldn’t fall.
“We were brought up trying to do good by the church and people in general,” he said, “and the first time when this happened, I was ashamed. I was like, ‘I don’t understand,’ but then I thought, ‘Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be.’”
The incidents took place in the St. Agnes rectory in Rockville Centre, as well as the rectories of Corpus Christi Church in Mineola and St. Joachim Church in Cedarhurst, the man claimed, as McGeever moved to different churches. McGeever drove him to them until he got his license.
McGeever came to St. Agnes in the early 1980s, and coordinated the church’s renovation, according to “To Believe in a Vision: The Story of a Cathedral and its Builders,” by James M. O’Neill.
The man, who was raised not by his parents, but by a relative, said that McGeever told him to keep their meetings a secret and that he could be shipped off to a foster home if he didn’t. “He said people wouldn’t understand if I told them that I had to help him in the shower and help stretch his leg and things like that,” he recalled.
The abuse took place more than 100 times, Garabedian said, noting the control a priest can have over a child. “After the first time that I was molested, I think there was a time where I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how to stop it or who to tell to stop it for me,” the man said. “I grew up, first of all, in a different generation. We grew up respecting adults. We would never talk back to an adult, let alone a priest or a monsignor or deacon.”
He added that he had access to the rectory at all times, and that nobody questioned his presence there.
“Once again the question remains, where were the supervisors?” Garabedian said. “Why weren’t they helping this child who was sexually abused beginning when he was a child for more than 10 years repeatedly by a pedophile priest?”
The alleged victim claimed that Bishop John McGann, who led the diocese from 1976 to 1999 and died in 2002, as well as Monsignor Edward Melton and others, were aware of his meetings with McGeever, and said he would have dinner with them in the rectory.
Representatives of the parishes at which the alleged abuse occurred did not comment on the claims. An assistant principal of St. Agnes Cathedral School at the time of the alleged abuse had not responded to the Herald’s request for comment at press time on Tuesday.
Diocese spokesman Sean Dolan did not comment specifically on the allegations, saying in a statement, “The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program is a tangible step towards reconciliation, healing and compensation for survivors of acts of abuse committed by diocesan clergy. We recognize that no amount of monetary compensation could ever erase or undo the grave harm suffered by survivors of child abuse. We are also glad to see survivors come forward.”
The man, who is now married and has two children, said he still suffers from the trauma of the abuse, and that several years of therapy did not help. He said he had never spoken about the abuse, but decided to come forward when he kept hearing stories about children being abused.
“I just wish that the Catholic Church would just come clean and just admit how it took advantage of all these people who were abused,” he said. “Monetarily, it really doesn’t mean anything to me as far as what happened in my life. It was like part of my childhood was taken away, you know? Like part of my innocence taken away.”
Garabedian said that he had not received other claims involving McGeever.
“In coming forward, my client is empowering himself, other clergy sexual abuse victims, and making the world a safer place for children,” he said. “Hopefully my client will try to heal and gain a degree of closure by entering into the settlement [program].”
No longer a practicing Catholic, the man said he has not gone back to the church since McGeever’s death more than 20 years ago, which brought a mix of emotions.
“It was relief, but I was also sad, because I think at some point I really thought he was a good man,” he said. “I think something must have happened to him, also, to do this.”