After decades of repression, a local man speaks out about the priest he says molested him. His actions may force the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to do right by its many alleged victims.
Lawyers for the victims viewed the move as a scare tactic to keep others from coming forward.
At the July 8 hearing, Jay Abramowitch, an attorney representing the McDonnells and 12 other plaintiffs, argued that the clock on the statute of limitations should start when the victims first learned that the Church had been covering up allegations and protecting known pedophiles--which, in most cases, is only a few years back.
"That's when they learned there was a second defendant responsible for the crimes committed against them," argues Abramowitch.
Courts in Lehigh and Westmoreland counties recently upheld the argument and allowed the victims' cases to move forward.
Common Pleas Court Judge Arnold New is expected to rule on the Philadelphia cases in the upcoming weeks.
A decision to allow the cases to proceed, says victim lawyer Jeff Anderson, "would allow survivors in Pennsylvania, now denied justice and healing, the opportunity to hold the Church hierarchy accountable for their deception and complicity in protecting predatory priests."
It's a humid Thursday evening in July. Brian McDonnell, his brother Alex and their friend Jimmy McGlone sit in a small wooden gazebo on the grounds of Norristown State Hospital. Jimmy and Brian have just returned from a trip into town to see Spider-Man 2.
Brian is quiet. He stares at the ground and keeps running his hands through his hair.
Other patients returning from break file past the gazebo. One thin man, babbling incoherently, approaches and offers a handful of cigarette butts. Brian doesn't look up.
Alex suspects Brian is anxious about his decision to come forward and talk about the abuse. Brian was afraid the Church would shun him because of the lawsuit. But he decided to speak out anyway. "To help the Church," he says.
"The Church has to own up to its responsibility for Chambers being at St. Gregory's and then being moved around afterward," he says. "What he was doing to us? I don't know how they do it in legal terms, but his collar should have been taken off."
It's only been a few months since Brian first opened up about the abuse. He says it felt good to talk about it, and he's been talking about it more since then.
But progress is slow.
I've been feeling shame over this since 1955," he says. "Not much has changed in the last six months."
Thoughts of suicide still creep into his mind. He struggles to find purpose in his life.
"I run away from my suicide thoughts by saying Hail Marys," he says. "I say, 'Hail Mary, forgive me' to make them go away."
He says he's forgiven Chambers.
"Anger is a bitter pill to swallow," he says.
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