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Spin is very important for an organization as large as a Catholic Diocese. In addition to the army of lobbyists they employ to keep legal avenues closed to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of some of their priests, they employ a communications director who serves as the mouthpiece for the organization. What this voice for the Vicar of Slocum Hollow does is inform the media, and anyone else who will listen, of how deeply the Bishop feels about the victims of his rogue clergy. In a letter to the editor in the Scranton Times Tribune published in response to an article about another victim of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton, Mr. William Genello, the Diocese’s Communications Director, vents his righteous indignation at the paper and insists that the Diocese is given a bad wrap for it’s dealings with victims of sexual abuse. In his letter to the editor, Mr. Genello stated “…Bishop Joseph F. Martino always reaches out personally to each victim to express his deep sorrow.
This may be shocking, but his statement was not true. It was at best inaccurate and at worst a lie. The Communications Director was spinning a bad situation and he was probably hoping that what he said was in fact, a fact. It wasn’t and I called him out on it. I actually called his office and left him a message. The Bishop of Scranton never reached out to me personally to express his deep sorrow at any time after I reported to the abuse to the Diocese in July 2007. In fact, no priest, monsignor or bishop from the Diocese has ever expressed anything to me about the fact that as a 13 year old I had been subjected to the perverted whims of a pedophile wearing a Roman Collar.
Much to his credit, the Communications Director returned my call. In our conversation about this alleged pastoral expression of sorrow, Mr. Genello explained to me that it was all a matter of semantics. I, as the victim of the abuse, did not get anything resembling personal contact from the Bishop because the Bishop expresses this sorrow in a meeting with the victim. But the victim had to set up the meeting, and come to the Bishop. I guess the measure of a contrite Bishop is the amount of time he grants you to come to his office to hear your story. The invitation to come to see him is not made by the Bishop himself, instead some proxy makes the gesture of inviting you to request a meeting. It is all so clear. If you wish to get an apology, request it, and then you come to the office in Scranton to receive it. I am sure there is paperwork involved, in triplicate. So simple and yet so completely ridiculous.
My father thinks that Bishop Martino should hop into his Chrysler and drive on down here to Chesapeake, Virginia and make the apology to me in person. He also thinks that the Bishop should come alone and actually drive his own car. He has my address, I am sure some lowly monsignor could go on Google Maps and get directions for the Bishop.
I know I am being flip here, I am allowed, it is my blog after all. My point here is that a rational man would come to the conclusion that the Bishop himself communicated in some meaningful way directly to all victims. That is the message the Communications Director conveyed through his letter to the editor. Mr. Genello seems to think that an offer of a meeting from one of the Bishop’s subordinates is equal to the Bishop reaching out “personally”. If the Bishop, himself, wanted to reach out to me, he would have done so already. The Bishop’s silence speaks volumes. This issue is not a priority to the man.
As for a meeting with the Bishop, I was not given any compelling reason why that would be of any benefit to me. Aside from the opportunity to swing by the bookstore at the Universtity of Scranton for a new hooded sweatshirt, I really cannot see anything to be gained by driving the 350+ miles to Scranton. If there is some benefit to my making the trip, the diocese has failed to communicate to me what that might be. I guess the Communications Director is still working on that.
The following is a little more detail on the assignments of Father Robert J. Gibson, ordained in the Diocese of Scranton in 1958. The number of parishes he was assigned to that had schools, either in the parish or asscociated with a parish, is alarming. For the record, I have not received any of this information from the Diocese of Scranton. They seem to still be deciding the question of what information should be released on Father Gibson’s assignments. Special thanks to Janet in Kansas for the research she so graciously forwarded to me. (note: The Official Catholic Directory is a snapshot of where priests were assigned as of 1 January of each year. )
1959-65 Scranton, PA St. Paul, 1510 Penn Ave. Priests: John J. Vaughan(Vicar Forane, Dean), Joseph F. Ryan, Joseph R. Doggett(’59), Francis A. Conlan(’60-62), Robert J. Gibson
School: 7 Sisters of the I.H.M. 1 lay teacher 484 pupils High school: 10 Sisters of the I.H.M. 280 pupils
Mission: St. Clare’s School: Sisters of the I.H.M. 7 Lay teacher 1 2215 Washington Ave. 401 pupils.
1966-67 directory not available (
1968-1970 Stroudsburg, PA St. Matthew’s, 200 Brodhead Ave. Priests: Thomas J. Cawley,Robert J. Gibson, John J. Bendik
St Matthews School: 7 Sisters I.H.M. 2 lay teachers 311 pupils Missions: St. Luke’s, Stroudsburg; St. John’s, Bushkill; St. Mark’s, Delaware Water Gap
1971-1974 Stroudsburg, PA St. Luke’s, 906 Main St. Priests: Francis G. Barrett, Robert J. Gibson In residence: John J. Bendik Mission: St. Mark’s, Delaware Water Gap.
St Matthews School, East Stroudsburg, Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School.
1975-82 Brodheadsville, PA Our Lady Queen of Peace Church Priest: Robert J. Gibson
Mission: Jonas, Holy Family.
School: Still associated with St. Matthew’s and Notre Dame
1983 Conyngham, PA St. John Bosco Priest: Robert J. Gibson
1984-95 Canadensis, PA St. Bernadette Church Priest: Robert J. Gibson
Mission: Promised Land, Our Lady of Fatima
1996 -1997 Kingston, PA St. Ignatius, 339 N. Maple Ave. Priests: F. Allan Conlan, Glenn E. McGreary, Joseph B. Wilson In res., Robert J. Gibson Chapel—St. Ann’s
1998-2008 Unassigned or leave of absence. In the case of Fr. Gibson, he was sequestered in the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri.
During his career he had ample opportunity to “groom” his victims. The diocese claims that there are 4 complaints on record from his time at St Lukes, Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Bernadettes and finally at St Ignatius. It is interesting that Fr. Gibson was at St John Bosco in Coyningham for a period of only 6 months (September 1982 – February 1983). This is a remarkably short time frame for a pastor to be assigned to a parish! I can only speculate why the Diocese of Scranton would move a pastor after such a short tenure.
I am amazed at the positive response I have been receiving to this blog. I have communicated with people that, unfortunately, share a common bond of having been abused/molested/raped by a member of the clergy or are close to someone that was. I was startled by the similarities in the stories not only of the actual events but of the consequences that have dramatically changed the course of people’s lives. You don’t need to look to far to understand that the problems of sexual abuse by Clergy has reached epidemic proportions. This is not limited to pedophiles, there are adults as well as children who are dealing with this problem.
I am very impressed at the resourcefulness of the people I have talked to so far. Once they set their mind to pursuing justice, in whatever form that works for them, they are determined and passionate about their cause. I never saw myself as an activist, but I am beginning to think that it is important to take a stand to force the hierarchy of the church to fundamentally change their way of doing business. They need to be open and honest. You would think that this would be easy for Catholic leaders but it seems to be problematic! Since they will not be forthcoming with information and they continue to harbor pedophiles while they try to keep victims quiet, I have no choice but to keep looking for alternative ways to persuade them that what they have done for decades is wrong and perhaps criminal.
A woman from Kansas contacted me a few days ago. Her son was abused by a priest who is currently in the Vianney Center in Dittmer Missouri, the same facility that Father Gibson calls home. She was able to do some research on Father Gibson’s assignments. I had asked the Diocese of Scranton for the information, they are still pondering whether they should provide that information to me. I was planning on driving up to Richmond to the Diocese of Richmond’s archives to access the Official Catholic Directory to enable me to more accurately form a time line of Fr. Gibson’s assignments. I am sure he has left a trail of damage through each parish. For anyone who is looking to fill out a time line on any priest, the Official Catholic Directory is a great starting place. It is usually available at Catholic Colleges and Universities, Diocesean Archives and some large public central libraries. Look for a separate blog entry for the details, but I am filling in holes in my original assignment list.
I will continue to work on this blog. I don’t want it to consume me though. I do not want to become obsessed with writing this at the expense of the people I care for or the things that I enjoy doing. I have a kayak sitting on the side of the house that I really want to take out on Lake Drummond before it gets too far into the fall. I also have a new job that is going to require that I do some traveling. I will be leaving tomorrow for a conference in the Washington D.C. area. While at that conference I am hoping to take some time during one of the evenings that I have free to meet with a gentleman that had a similar experience with Father Gibson. More importantly, I am going to get to take my son to dinner, he is a university student in Northern Virginia.
Do I have your attention yet?
Abuse thrives in an environment of secrecy!
Have you figured that out yet?
At the end of my eigth grade year at Notre Dame JR/SR High School there was an assembly of the eighth grade in a large lecture hall next to the chemistry lab. This particular room had auditorium seating and a lab table in the front of the room. At this assembly the “I Dare You” Award sponsored by the American Legion was to be given out. As this was my first year at the school and my life had taken a very weird turn that I was ill equipped to deal with, I spent most of that school year trying to be completely invisible.
I knew nothing about this award or the criteria for the selection of the winner. As my name was announced, I noticed Fr Gibson off to the side, grinning. It seems Father Gibson had something to do with the selection of the “winner”. For the life of me, I could not imagine anything I had done during that academic year that was of any significance either scholastically or in community service that would have warranted my selection. The award came in the form of a large American Legion medallion and a small book entitled “I Dare You”. The message in the title of the book was chilling to me. It was as if he was reminding me to keep quiet about his activities. He used any method to control me and to keep me from having the confidence that I could speak to someone about what was happening and be believed. He was using what should have been a recognition for one of my classmate that had actually achieved something to keep me off my center, to keep me unstable and not knowing what to do next.
I still have the book and the medallion.
It seems counter intuitive that the Catholic Church would protect pedophiles and seek to silence the victims of sexual abuse. After all, the church is supposed to be a moral compass guiding us to behave in such a manner as to emulate the life of Christ. It should be championing those who have suffered and standing up for those who have been wronged. They should be actively seeking to expose evil in our world. Time and again the Catholic Church has chosen to do the complete opposite. The leadership of the church is more interested in protecting pedophiles than they are in protecting innocent children or supporting efforts to root out those clergy who are abusing their position for their own personal thrill.
Father Gibson created opportunities where he could control my movements and keep me away from any semblance of a support structure. He would occasionally take me to the rectory at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church for overnight stays on weeknights. The new rectory was under construction so I was taken to the mobile home that served as the pastors residence. Parishioners would come by the residence and they seemed to be accustomed to finding the Pastor with “overnight guests”. As an adult I cannot believe that some of these people didn’t find this to be out of the usual and potentially questionable activity.
He also took me to New York City, away from my family and totally dependent on him. Under the guise of taking me to see some Broadway Shows, he took me across state lines. His particular love was for Operetta, specifically Gilbert and Sullivan. In 1974 the D’oyle Carte Opera Company (a world renowned Gilbert and Sullivan Theater Company from Great Britain) came to New York and he bought tickets to see some of his favorites, The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. I was taken along with him so he could revel in alcohol, a proper British interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan and then indulge in his affinity for young boys. I was not the main event, but it is clear that I was the curtain call. The hotel room had only one bed. His intentions were pretty clear.
I wonder who helped him with the travel arrangements. Who in their right mind would think it was appropriate to book an adult man and a young teenage boy into a room with only 1 bed?
A friend from high school wrote to me recently and offered some thoughts on ways that I could stay connected to my faith. One of the more interesting and thoughtful of the people I have been fortunate enough to reconnect with, she has afforded me the benefit of being blunt with her thoughts.
She reminded me of something she remembered being taught that Catholics believe.
“We believe that a Catholic should practice their faith through three avenues: prayer, acts of service/charity, and participation in the sacraments. Given the understandable aversion to priests, the sacraments would prove to be problematic. But you can still practice your faith in other ways. Prayer, whether it be formal prayer or an informal dialogue with God, can offer you the comfort of practicing your faith.”
As for my relationship with God, I think my experience with Gibson and some of the things I saw while deployed to the Iraqi theater of operations has led me to question everything about God. I cannot grasp why a deity, if one does exist, could be benevolent and allow the things I have seen to happen. I have been asked about “losing my faith”, I don’t think I ever had a faith to begin with. I am sure there is a point for those who truly believe, when faith manifests itself out of all the memorization and repetition of Catholic tradition we are put through as children. About the point where that was jelling for some of my contemporaries, I was dealing with what was happening to me and the realization that things are not really what they appear to be.
Intellectually, I understand Catholicism and Christianity. I attended the University of Scranton, (a Jesuit University) where I was required to take theology courses, I think I actually enjoyed them as an intellectual exercise I have read the bible and I have been to church services all over the world from the chapel at Notre Dame High School to St Peters Basilica in Rome. I can honestly say that I felt nothing, I was not moved nor did I find anything spiritual about the experience.. This is all theoretical to me. I know that sounds harsh, but that is my reality. I think I am just a flat line when it comes to religion. I tried in college, I went to church almost every week. But there was nothing there for me. And there still is nothing there for me.
I know my wife prays, I don’t think I even know how to anymore.
For years I have been trying to figure out how Father Gibson flew under the radar. I was amazed that he was not listed on one of the websites that identify and chronicle these predators, such as BishopAccountability or SNAP. He had to have the support and cover afforded by the Diocese to keep him from prosecution and to keep his actions from becoming public knowledge. The Diocese, even though they knew he was a predator, returned him to a rectory, albeit not in a pastoral position, and he went back to his old ways. Given the history the Diocese has with predator priests (16 that we know of), why did they keep returning these men to rectories?
The Diocese of Scranton’s current policy is to occasionally run general notices in church bulletins and the Catholic press. These bulletin and press notices do not specifically state that Robert Gibson or any other priest by name, may have been involved in inappropriate activity with children in the parishes in which he was assigned.
I have asked the Victims Advocate at the Diocese of Scranton to provide me with a complete listing of Fr. Gibson’s assignments since while in training and since his ordination in 1958. I will pass along those details when they are available.
For now, from what I can piece together, he was assigned to the following parishes:
- St. Matthew’s. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (1960’s)
- St. Luke’s, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (early 1970’s)
- Our Lady Queen of Peace, Brodheadsville Pennsylvania (mid/late 1970’s – 1980’s)
- St. Bernadette’s, Canadensis, Pennsylvania (1980’s -1990’s)
- St Ignatius Rectory, Kingston, Pennsylvania (mid 1990’s)
While at St. Matthews, St. Lukes and Our Lady Queen of Peace he was affiliated with St. Matthews Elementary School and Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School, both located in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
It was in these parishes and schools where he cultivated his targets. I think one only needs to look in these locations to find other victims. I am certain they are there. Can someone tell me why the Diocese of Scranton is not going to these parishes to discuss this issue?
A recent article in the Scranton Times-Tribune identified another priest in the Diocese of Scranton who has been accused of sexually abusing children. The headline accompanying the story exclaimed “The Diocese comes clean on Abusive Priest”. The Diocese did not really come clean, they were forced to respond to a reporter’s inquiry about allegations that Father Robert Gibson had sexually assaulted a 13 year old boy in 1973-1974. As a result of the article, Father Gibson is no longer flying under the radar. His dirty little secret is out in the open and the Diocese of Scranton has had to admit that they were hiding another pedophile.
The 13 year old boy in the story was me. For more than 30 years I kept that secret to myself. I was confused, ashamed and embarrassed by what happened. Mostly I was convinced that no one would believe my story, after all this was a popular priest at my school and in the community. I was raised in an Irish Catholic family where priests and nuns were held in reverence. Priests were seen as God’s representative on earth. We were taught at an early age that we were to obey them, without question. Father Gibson knew this all too well and exploited it for his perverse pleasure.
For all these years I have carried the burden of being silent. I am no longer willing to do so. I have lived with the effects of this abuse and have seen it manifested in failed relationships, the inability to trust even those closest to me and a lack of self confidence and esteem. While the physical effects have passed, I still struggle with the emotional and mental consequences on a daily basis.
I have been fortunate in having a wife and children who have been very supportive, more than I could have asked for considering the damage I have caused through the years. My parents and siblings have also rallied behind me. I realize now that I am a fortunate man.
I am not saying that my behavior through the years is excused by revealing my secret. I am still responsible for my actions and inactions. But I have asked for understanding and I have been granted that by those who are closest to me.
While I have to set my own house in order and find a way to move forward, I also think that I owe the other victims of Father Gibson, and others like him, an opportunity to speak up and come forward. In the Scranton Times-Tribune article, the spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton admitted to four reports by victims about Father Gibson. Until the article appeared, there was no public acknowledgment that he was a sexual predator even though the Diocese knew about his activities. I have already spoken with one of his other victims, I was amazed at the similarity of our stories. I am confident that there are many more than four victims and I hope more people will come forward knowing that they are not alone and that, whatever happened, it was not their fault. I also hope that as more people come forward, those who have protected Father Gibson and others like him will be held accountable for there actions.
This is where I want to start the conversation. I hope it will be cathartic for me and I am hoping you will offer your thoughts as I sort all this out.