Women also allege abuse; Pedophile priests targeted girls,
too; Girls among victims of priest molestation
MAGGIE MULVIHILL, TOM MASHBERG and ROBIN WASHINGTON
02/25/2002 Boston Herald All Editions
Buried under the avalanche of accusations that Catholic priests have
abused hundreds of Massachusetts boys over a half-century are an untold
number of cases of female victims whose lives were also ripped apart by
molesters in the clergy.
"There are thousands upon thousands of cases in which females were
abused," said Gary Richard Schoener, a Minnesota psychologist and expert
on clergy sexual abuse. "Finally there is some attention on this issue
because there are far more priests who offend against girls and women than
While there is wide belief that pedophile priests target males - altar
boys and the sons of single mothers are frequently preyed upon - some of
the most notorious offenders in Massachusetts, including former Revs. John
J. Geoghan and James R. Porter, have been accused of molesting children of
Now, emboldened by news reports of the scandal enveloping the Roman
Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, scores of women locally and nationally are
coming forward to tell their harrowing tales of suffering at the hands of
pedophile priests. Many are pressing suits against the church for abuse
endured as little girls.
"I kept it buried," said Pam McLaughlin, 61, of Somerville, an advocate
for elderly housing and a faithful churchgoer who says she was abused in
the 1940s while attending St. Anthony's in Allston.
"But I have gotten sick realizing the magnitude of this scandal," she
said. "This abuse cannot simply be hidden away any longer."
McLaughlin said she and her cousins were sexually molested multiple times
by the Rev. James T. McKeon, now deceased. When her family complained, she
said, they were told to remain silent for "the good of the church."
McLaughlin says she gets chills looking at pictures of herself and her
cousins posing with McKeon, and at one point the girls cut the priest's
image from one of their group photos in the family album.
Schoener and other experts say the abuse of females is not publicized with
the same intensity as that of males in part because victims are less
likely to report the abuse or file a suit.
"The media has focused so heavily on males there has been a lot of
outreach to boy victims, and in recent years we have had this unusual
situation where men have come forward to report the abuse," Schoener said.
"We have cases of priest pedophiles who prefer girls but we still know we
only have a very small percentage of the victims that have come forward."
One suit involving a local woman - a 34-year-old Boston mother who claims
she was first abused in 1976 while a second-grader at St. Ann's Parish in
Dorchester by former priest Paul J. Mahan - is inching slowly through
Suffolk Superior Court and illustrates the suffering that girl victims
Mahan has been defrocked by the church and is believed to be living in
Arlington, Va. At least one sexual abuse suit against him has been
settled, and 13 more molestation suits are pending.
The woman, who requested anonymity, said the first incident she remembers
is when Mahan allegedly put his hands up her white dress as she was posing
for a picture on the rectory lawn after she made her first Holy Communion.
"He pushed his hand right up the back of my dress," she said. "He was
smiling and he had these icy eyes. I ran right home and put on a pair of
plaid bell-bottoms. I felt totally panicked. I don't even remember the
rest of the day."
The woman said Mahan, who has refused to respond to requests for comment
and recently disconnected his telephone, continued to abuse her sexually
at least through the fifth grade.
After one incident where he allegedly rubbed his hands over her breasts
and genitals in the St. Ann's elementary school stairwell, she ran into
the girls' room and vomited, she said.
The woman was too fearful to tell her parents because Mahan was one of her
father's closest friends and often came for dinner, she said. Instead, she
told a nun - her second-grade teacher - who immediately told her to hold
her tongue, she said.
"She was really mad," the woman recalled. "She told me never to say
anything like that again and grabbed my arm and twisted it. I wasn't a
dainty little thing, but she pulled me so hard my feet literally came
right up off of the ground."
The idea that the woman tried as a frightened child to report Mahan and
was scared into silence is one of the more infuriating aspects of her
case, said her lawyer, Carmen Durso, who labels Mahan a "major
"Almost no kid has the gumption to even report abuse by priests, but these
people made it very clear to her she had absolutely no place to go," Durso
The woman said she kept Mahan's abuse a secret for years as her life
spiraled into a haze of alcohol abuse and psychological torment.
The woman has two children by different fathers, is unable to work, lives
on disability income, suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and refuses
to leave her apartment.
She says she has attempted suicide twice and has self-mutilated with such
frequency that the razor slashes and cigarette burns on her arms remain
"I have been sewed up a bunch of times," she said. "I would tape
bottle-caps between my sock and foot so the points would stick into my
feet and I would bleed. I used to self-mutilate every day but now it's
only about once a month, so that isn't too bad."
On top of the emotional scars suffered by female victims is the added
stigmatizing - suggestions that the girls may be responsible for the abuse
by enticing the priest into molesting them,- said David Clohessy of the
Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national
Gloria DelBene of Plainville said she was molested 30 years ago by the
Rev. Mario Pezzotti, a priest at the Xaverian Fathers Mission in
"He was always around, and he always had his hands up my shirt down my
pants, and would force my hands on him," she said.
The Rev. Francis Signorelli, the superior at the mission who worked with
Pezzotti, said yesterday he did not know the DelBene family and could not
confirm the accusation. "(Their name) doesn't ring a bell to me," he said.
Last week, the Herald reported that the order settled at least two sex
abuse suits against Pezzotti, who has been a missionary in Brazil since
the early 1970s.
DelBene said she has kept her abuse a secret since then.
"My mother was talking about the (priest scandal), saying, `Why are all
these people coming forward after so many years?' " she said. "I said:
`All right, I'm going to tell you what happened to me.' "
DelBene added that she doubted her mother would have listened to her at
But Eleanor DelBene said she would have believed her daughter.
"I'm devastated," she said. "He was the family priest, coming over to all
the holiday dinners. He used to sit in the back seat with her. None of us
would have thought of looking to see if he was doing anything to her.
"My husband would have killed him," she said.
Maggie Mulvihill may be reached at