A day of reckoning

Contra Costa Times/July 24, 2006

For more than three decades, officials at Salesian High in Richmond insisted that a former altar boy who claimed to have been sexually abused by one of the priests at the school was making it all up.

Last week, however, a Contra Costa jury disagreed. It awarded $600,000 to Joey Piscitelli, a 50-year-old Martinez man who testified that the Rev. Stephen Whelan, a teacher and vice principal, abused him during his freshman and sophomore years from 1969 to 1971.

Piscitelli is now a coordinator for an organization called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

That such a group even exists -- and that it has members all over the country -- is in itself an abomination.

Piscitelli's story is sickeningly familiar. A priest who is supposed to be teaching children how to become moral citizens, instead uses his position of trust to abuse minor children.

Once the hideous act comes to light, church officials do everything in their power to protect the perpetrator and discredit the victim.

In Piscitelli's case, however, nine out of 12 jurors believed his account of a priest who masturbated in front of him, and a church leadership that tried to cover it up.

Piscitelli testified that he sought help from a therapist. But afterward, his mother who worked in the school cafeteria, told him that the school was going to fire her and kick him out if he didn't keep quiet.

To save his mother's job, Piscitelli says he returned to the principal's office and promised to keep his complaints to himself.

Thirty-five year later, he has been vindicated through the civil court system. But that offers only a measure of comfort given that Whelan, after all these years, is still a vice principal and teacher at Salesian High. And, there's no indication that that will change.

Church officials continue to insist that Whelan is innocent and that he has never been accused of abuse by anyone other than Piscitelli.

The number of complaints against the priest has nothing to do with anything. The issue is, that once the abuse was reported, church officials never conducted a serious investigation of the charges -- a pattern that we have seen time and time again in parishes across the country.

Just last month, the Salesian Society reached a $700,000 settlement with another man who says he was molested by a teacher at Salesian High.

We simply cannot fathom the mindset of Catholic Church officials who claim to be men of God, yet they allow grown men to repeatedly abuse children -- often transferring serial abusers from parish to parish where they prey on more unsuspecting victims.

Their actions are as loathsome as the abuse itself. There will be a day of reckoning with a higher authority.

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