npr / Faith Matters
In the decade since The Boston Globe broke the story about the cover-up of pedophile priests in the Boston Archdiocese, countless Americans have shared their stories of clergy abuse. Bob Hoatson is a former priest who was abused as a teen by church leaders. He speaks with host Michel Martin. (Advisory: This segment may not be suitable for all audiences.)
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I’m Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we’ll hear from the Barbershop guys. They’ll weigh in – as they always do – on the news of the week. That’s coming up in a few minutes.
But first, we want to focus on a story that changed the way many Americans view the Catholic Church. It’s been 10 years since the Catholic sex abuse scandal at the Archdiocese of Boston was first reported by the Boston Globe. The story was filled with detailed descriptions of how priests had abused numerous children over many years, and how top leaders in the church covered it up.
In the decade since the report was published, thousands of people across the country have come forward, to share their own stories of the abuse suffered at the hands of priests. In today’s Faith Matters – that’s the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality – we’ll speak with one of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story.
For now, though, we want to turn to a man with a unique perspective on this issue. Bob Hoatson served as a priest for decades but in 2003, he revealed that he had been abused by Catholic brothers as a teen. He now runs a nonprofit for survivors of clergy sex abuse, called Road to Recovery.
And he’s with us now, and I just do want to mention that we are going to be talking about a sensitive issue – the issue of childhood sexual abuse – so this conversation may not be appropriate for all.
But with that being said, Bob Hoatson, thank you so much for speaking with us.
BOB HOATSON: Hi, Michel. It’s great to be with you.
MARTIN: You know, I so apologize for starting our conversation this way, but I do think it is important for people to understand. You know, how did this start? And did you recognize it as abuse at the time?
HOATSON: I had no idea it was abuse, Michel. I was 18. I had been groomed through high school in Newark, New Jersey. One Christian brother told me that I was such a bright student that he needed to have me in his senior year English honors class, and I politely rejected his offer. He moved me into that class anyway, and began to take me to Broadway shows and movies – and began the grooming process, as we call it.
Well, fortunately, he didn’t touch me at that time, but I then entered the Congregation of Christian Brothers. And I was abused by four or five different men as I entered the Christian Brothers and went through the Christian Brothers.
MARTIN: I think that – that’s the other question I think many people might have – is that it might be surprising to some people that you entered that order after you had been abused by these people. And I just wondered if you could – can you explain that?
HOATSON: Well, the abuse didn’t occur, Michel, actually, until I joined. The person who was grooming me did groom me through high school. But I really thought I had a religious vocation, and I wasn’t going to let anybody stop me from pursuing that.
When I entered the religious order at the age of 18, after high school graduation, my first superior said to me: Bob, you are a cold person; we’re going to have to warm you up. And I had no clue as to what he was talking about at the time. You know, I was an idealistic kid of 18 who wanted to serve God.
And unfortunately, what that forced me to do was to go into serious introspection about why I was such a cold person. And what he really was doing was grooming me for the next level. And then after that, I just went through a series of one, two, three, four men who preyed upon me.
And yes, I did stay until I was 42 years old, in the Christian Brothers – 23 years, I stayed.
MARTIN: Did they try to make you think that this was part of your vocation, to satisfy them?
HOATSON: Retrospectively, absolutely. Did I know it at the time? No.
MARTIN: What made you finally decide to speak out about this, and then become an activist on this issue?
HOATSON: Believe it or not, Michel, it was two of my former students. I was a teacher in Boston in the 1980s. In 2002, two of my students – whom I believed were being abused at the time, in the 1980s, and I spoke out about it. They went public, and I finally contacted them after I saw their stories in the Boston Globe and in other Boston media outlets. I called them and I said, you know, David and Gary – and they’ve allowed me to use their names – David and Gary, I’m really sorry; I should have screamed much more loudly in the 1980s.
But as a result of my going to Boston once a week after they went public, to help them, I decided, you know what? It’s time for me to face my truth. And it was my students who taught me that.
MARTIN: What effect do you think this experience has had on your life?
HOATSON: Oh, it’s had – it is the seminal experience of my life. Actually – believe it or not – I am now uncovering, through therapy, more sexual abuse in my Catholic elementary school here in New Jersey. And I’m working through that in therapy and – you know, the whole repressed memory; and we tend to bury things. So I’ll be 60 years old in a couple of weeks, and I’m still uncovering more sex abuse within the Catholic Church, in my own life.
MARTIN: I guess – I want to go back to a question I probably should have asked sooner, which is – why do you think the abuse that has been documented to have occurred in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, happened? And why do you think that the scandal unfolded as it did?
HOATSON: Two principal reasons, and there are many -obviously – points to come after those two reasons. But essentially, number one: Wherever power and authority are abused, children will be abused, and all other people will be abused. So the Catholic Church is a very closed, insular society with one leader, and everyone is answerable to that leader. When that leader can then have ultimate authority over everyone in the organization – well, that’s abuse of power.
When power is not shared, when authority is not delineated to various people in the organization, you’re going to have serious, serious issues. And the pedestalization of the priesthood as a result of that – in other words, priests are other Christs. Anybody who develops an ego or a narcissism that is centered around, I’m as – almost as good as God; and he must practice, then, mandatory celibacy; and he has sexual urges – well, you add God and urges and boy, that little altar boy at 7 o’clock in the morning starts to look pretty good, in terms of outlets for sexual pleasures and gratifications.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, I think it is important to disclose that you sued the church in 2005. But the suit was dismissed, citing the statute of limitations had passed. Do I have that right?
HOATSON: That’s correct.
MARTIN: I also think it’s important to point out that just as of last month, you chose to leave the priesthood voluntarily. You were granted permission by the pope, which is required; it took about a year. Can I ask why you decided to leave the priesthood, which has, in fact, been your vocation for your entire adult life?
HOATSON: Well, unfortunately, the Catholic Church has been corrupted to its core. And I felt that I could not remain inside that structure. There is so much yet to be revealed about the inside of the Catholic Church that it’s just mind-boggling. And I couldn’t remain a part of that institution, and remain faithful to my own integrity.
MARTIN: What are you going to do now?
HOATSON: Well, we’re growing Road to Recovery, which is our nonprofit charity based here in New Jersey. And we’re going to continue to help victims of sexual abuse. We are working with victims of Syracuse University and Penn State and the Boston Red Sox, and we’re also taking more and more calls each and every day from clergy abuse victims.
MARTIN: Bob Hoatson served as a priest for decades – most of his adult life, in fact. He was voluntarily released from the priesthood last month. And he leads the nonprofit group Road to Recovery; that’s an organization for survivors of clergy abuse. And he joined us from member station WBGO in Newark.
Bob Hoatson, thank you so much for speaking with us, and good luck to you.
HOATSON: Michel, thanks for having me. It was great being with you.