by Church Militant • ChurchMilitant.com • September 3, 2018
By Mark Crawford
I, as well as my younger brother, were sexually abused by my parish priest, Fr. Kenneth L. Martin of the archdiocese of Newark when I was 15, but the grooming process began much earlier. I suspect my younger brother was even younger when his sexual abuse began.
I grew up in a large, devout Catholic family who was very much involved in parish life, I aspired to become a priest from an early age and in fact spent two years in a college seminary program at a Salesian College in New Jersey, although I was part of the Franciscan Capuchin Fraternity that attended this college seminary program. What I experienced and witnessed in this seminary is another story, too much of the same.
My parish priest ingratiated himself into our family life beginning when I was in eighth grade. He spent many, many hours at my house several days a week. At first, he was like a father figure to me, directing my studies, giving me responsibilities and duties in the parish as well. He took me on trips throughout the country, but in 1978, on a trip to Colorado, a train trip he arranged almost a year in advance, we had bunk beds in a sleeper car.
Overnight he climbed into my bed and I awoke as he was fondling me. That's when the sexual abuse began.
I was confused as he explained I should relax as this is normal when two people love each other. He molested me almost daily during this trip and several times a week thereafter for the next few years. I began to withdraw and avoid spending time with him whenever possible. Staying after school, getting involved in after-school activities — he would not have it. That just made things worse. His physical violence at times was a means to control me as I tried to avoid his presence but he only became even more angry and controlling.
He gave me many gifts, the expensive designer brand clothes, jewelry, he took me on many trips, including a trip to Europe, where in our Rome hotel he beat me because I took a bed in another room and didn't plan to sleep with him, he got his way. On another occasion, angry at something I had said (not sure of who said it, my younger brother or I), I was too afraid to admit it was I, he took me and my younger brother to the basement where he stripped us of our clothing and beat our bare backsides with a belt buckle.
He insisted I confess my sins to him, he always made me apologize for my actions, sitting in silence like a prisoner, he waited sometimes hours for my anger to subside until I would finally give in, and I would apologize so he would let me leave. He constantly told me he could not go on living without me and I feared he would at some point take his own life and mine if I ever disclosed the abuse. On several occasions, I absolutely feared for my life.
On just one such occasion, when I was 16, during the summer, my family traveled to Ohio to spend time with aunts, uncles and cousins on Lake Erie. I was thrilled at the thought of getting away from Fr. Martin, even if it was for just a few weeks. Well he decided he was coming along with us, I was very upset at even the thought. Once we arrived I immediately went off with cousins my age, we were gone for hours, running, fishing, swimming and having a great time.
When I returned to the house, my family was down on the beach below, but not Fr. Martin, he was waiting for me and, in a fit of rage, dragged me into a van and drove off. Again, I was gone for hours. He was very upset that I was not spending time with him. He said he wanted to leave and drive home, we came upon a set of railroad tracks where trains often came through town, he stopped the van on those tracks, long enough to scare the Hell out of me, but eventually he drove off and later stopped at a church, and insisted we go inside where we sat for quite some time, where he waited and insisted I apologize to him.
He pointed out a banner that hung above the altar which read, "Things now hidden in darkness will be revealed in great light." I remember thinking how I only wished that were true. He insisted that was meant for me and how I had to admit to him how badly I treat him at times, or my selfish lack of love. That, according to him, is what I was hiding.
At 17, I left and moved away to attend a college seminary program with the Franciscan Capuchins.
What I experienced and witnessed in the seminary was more of the same, living with young men who were quite immature, petty and what I later came to understand as having a stunted psychosexual development, certainly not all but way too many of my peers in the seminary — particularly those who came to college from a high school or minor seminary program.
After I had left for college and gone for only a few weeks, Fr. Martin, a diocesan priest, decided he was going to join the Franciscan Capuchin order. I was scared to death by this news and found out he had already begun the process. I told the priest in charge of our fraternity in hopes they would not allow him to join the order, I also wrote Fr. Martin a letter stating I wanted nothing to do with him anymore and that he needed to leave me alone.
I knew I had to speak out and decided to tell another priest who I knew to be Fr. Martin's good friend from the seminary, Fr. Bill Cramer. I was teaching Confraternity of Christian Doctrine at his parish at that time and asked if we could talk one day. When I told him what Fr. Martin had done to me years earlier, Fr. Bill turned white as a ghost and never spoke to me again. He avoided me at every turn. I later learned he himself had admitted to abusing two young brothers, had plead guilty and the Paterson diocese said he voluntarily took a leave from ministry but Bp. Frank Rodimer of Paterson allowed him to return to ministry as a hospital chaplain after he was "cleared" by a therapist.
My dad had been suffering from cancer. Fr. Martin was still close to my family at this time and spent many hours with my mom and dad as he was undergoing treatment for his cancer. When my dad passed away, it was my dad's request that Fr. Martin be the main celebrant at his funeral. It was during my father's funeral mass that he decided to openly chastise me (calling me out by name) during the homily for not "loving" enough while dad was alive. I knew what that was about, just taking another jab at me for avoiding his presence.
In early 1983, after finishing my second year in the seminary (to which I never returned), I got up the nerve to tell the auxiliary bishop, Jerome Pechillo of Newark, about my past abuse and hoped he would get help for Fr. Martin so he couldn't harm other children. He did not treat me kindly. The bishop chastised me for referring to him as "Father" instead of "His Excellency," reminding me he was a bishop.
He then said I was speaking out because I read an account in the local newspaper about another priest accused of abusing young boys from St Aloysius's parish, his residence. Years later, I learned that was Fr. Carmine Sita who, after pleading guilty to child abuse, changed his name to Fr. Gerald Howard and was returned to ministry where he went right back to abusing young boys in another state. I knew nothing of what he was talking about at that time. He then said I was angry because my dad had recently died.
He sent me to the Newark vicar of priests, Fr. Frank McNulty, to tell him everything. He explained he was a psychotherapist — he was not — he was Newark's vicar of priests. The priest who had abused me by now had moved on to my younger brother. For several years, he was not removed from my parish, that is, not until Abp. Theodore McCarrick became the archbishop of Newark and promoted him to serve as his personal secretary — that's right, he was promoted.
After trying to go on with my life and forget about all that had happened, some years later, my younger brother began to disclose his abuse in 1996. My family wanted answers, they didn't know that I, too, was abused. I was married by this time with the first of my three children. Having been in the seminary and acquainted with many clergy, my family pressed me to reach out. They still had no idea (at least none I was aware of, but they may have had their own suspicions) that I too was abused.
I met with several priests, including the new vicar of Newark, Paul Bootkoski. He was compassionate at the time and promised to arrange a meeting with Abp. McCarrick — needless to say, almost a year later and no meeting. I had made repeated requests which fell on deaf ears. Archdiocesan lawyers intervened to express they had immunity by virtue of the charitable immunity laws and the statute of limitations in New Jersey. They repeatedly requested a confidentiality agreement, which made me very angry.
I then sent a certified letter to our archbishop explaining how I am sickened by the total lack of a pastoral response and demanded a meeting indicating that if he failed to meet with me I would have no choice but to take my case to the press. He called me shortly after receiving my letter to arrange a meeting.
I met with Abp. McCarrick and the new bishop-elect of the Metuchen diocese, Paul Bootkoski. He was McCarrick's vicar of priests in Newark. The archbishop told me he had never met with a clergy abuse victim before and that I helped him understand the suffering of such abuse causes. I asked to be allowed to speak with other priests and seminarians to tell my story and the harm which is done when children are sexually abused. He said that would be arranged and the bishop would reach out to me. I also explained my anger at repeatedly being asked for confidentiality. I would be no different than Judas excepting pieces of silver had I chosen to be silent. This, I promised, would never happen.
Finally, he promised this man would not have access to children. It wasn't long at all before I realized none of this was true — not a single promise kept. A week after our meeting, I was again asked for confidentiality. Not long after I saw the archbishop, along with Fr. Martin, surrounded by children at a local hospital pictured in the diocesan paper. The archbishop and the archdiocese never reported him to police until after McCarrick left for Washington, D.C. a few years later, the criminal statute of limitations having now since expired.
In my frustration and knowing I had again been ignored and misled, I wrote every U.S. cardinal and the Vatican Secretary of State in 1998 about these incidents and the fact that Abp. McCarrick had promoted a known offender well after I had already informed the archdiocese. Several cardinals responded, including Cdls. Bernard Law, Roger Mahony, John O'Conner, James Stafford and the Vatican, so, they knew he returned a known predator back to ministry. In each of their responses, they simply redirected me back to Abp. McCarrick.
My abuser, Fr. Martin, after a review of diocesan files mandated by the New Jersey attorney general in 2002, was simply allowed to retire and is still a priest today. His ministry has been restricted. I was never informed of any of this — I learned that from a news report about two years ago. After leaving the priesthood in 2002, he was hired by the State of New Jersey and works for New Jersey transit and lives in a New Jersey shore town as a priest and a free man.
In late 2003, I finally got the courage to tell my story to the press. I met with a reporter from a local newspaper, that paper had been running other stories of victims who had come forward. I spent many hours on several different occasions telling him what I and my younger brother had endured. He wrote that article but it was never published. When I asked him why it hadn't run after a few weeks, he was not initially forthcoming, but I persisted.
He eventually explained that someone "higher up" received a call warning them not to publish this story if the paper ever expected to get another ad for Catholic cemeteries or anything of the sort. He wouldn't tell me who made or received such a call, but I believe it, as other stories of clergy abuse ran before and after my story was written but never published.
I then tried to find out if Fr. Martin had ever been reported to law enforcement if indeed the archdiocese was required to produce documents of all credible allegations of child abuse by clergy in the archdiocese of Newark. I was told by a county sex crimes investigator they were aware of my and my younger brother's abuse but the file had been lost. They only had a cover page which, in just a few lines summarized the extent of abuse Fr. Martin perpetrated upon my brother and me. Not surprisingly, the extent of abuse we endured as recorded, was totally inaccurate and minimized, the frequency of the abuse, where it took place and how often was greatly understated.