Cardinal summons Philadelphia's Catholic priests to hear from sex abuse victims

Friday, September 15th 2006, 9:44 pm
By: News On 6

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. (AP) -- Hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were summoned by the cardinal Friday to hear from two adults who as children were molested by priests.

The meeting at a seminary was called as part of an effort by the church to teach members of the clergy about victims' struggles to rebuild their lives.

Cardinal Justin Rigali said many priests have read newspaper accounts of abuse victims, but it was important for them to listen to personal stories as well.

"It is extremely important for us to hear their stories firsthand so that we may see the human face and hear the human voice," he said.

The victims were joined by a woman whose two sons were abused. All three speakers said they came from Catholic families, and that it was hard for them to report the abuse.

Victoria Windsor Cubberly graphically described being raped as a girl by a priest in a rectory office. She was later abused by two more clergymen. The experience left her with suicidal thoughts and nightmares.

"There are few people who want to hear my story -- it's just too hard to hear," Cubberly said, adding that she "wanted so badly to be the good little Catholic girl who was supposed to please the priests."

A woman named Grace discussed her sons' abuse and the lingering trauma it inflicted on their family.

"How did I not know? How did I not see it?" said Grace, who was not required to give her last name and was not fully identified by the archdiocese. "I will carry these questions until I die."

She said a priest regularly visited her family's house to gain her and her husband's trust. The priest then used that trust to get closer to her young sons, who are now adults. Her older boy was abused repeatedly in the church priory.

The hands the priest used to consecrate wine and bread, she said, were "the same hands he used to violate my son."

That statement anguished Monsignor David Benz.

"It was like sticking a knife in my heart," Benz said after the meeting.

Grace also read a letter from her older son, who is in prison, describing how he dreaded seeing the priest's car pull up to their house. After abusing her son, the priest would bring him home and have a drink at the kitchen table.

"It was like he was celebrating what he did to me," the son wrote.

Abuse victim Edward Morris, 44, told the priests that the church has lost generations of followers because of crimes committed by clergy.

The priests appeared riveted by the speakers, who challenged the cardinal to offer victims more help, including financial compensation.

After the gathering, a prayer service was held for the 330 priests.

"I think everyone's going to have to absorb the impact of what they just heard," archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell said.

Victims' advocates said the meeting was a positive effort by the Roman Catholic archdiocese to face its past.

"We're hoping that as they witness this, they'll be able to take some action to actually help survivors," said Pat Clancy, a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The event was closed to the public, but the church showed it live on the archdiocese's Web site.

A year ago, Philadelphia grand jury accused church leaders of covering up decades of abuse by at least 63 priests.

Another priest, the Rev. Steve Katziner, said he knew one of the priests accused by Cubberly. He blamed "the old-boys network" within the archdiocese for the cover-up, saying they were protecting the church's reputation and finances.

"I hope this is part of a healing for the priesthood -- a purification -- where things don't get covered up," he said.