Abused by a priest at 11 years old and quiet about it for most of his life, 68-year-old Fred Marigliano is making up for his silence.
For each step of a 270-mile walk he’s making across New Jersey, he is stopping people on the street and educating them about what it’s like to be a survivor of abuse and how much further the justice system needs to go to make it right.
“If Jesus was here, he’d be walking with us,” said Marigliano, of Green Brook, while sitting on a bench in Millville.
He works with Road to Recovery, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and MaleSurvivor.
When he stops each person on the street, he asks for their support of legislation that would remove the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits involving sexual abuse.
With the current laws, abuse survivors have two years to file a lawsuit against their abuser. Proposed legislation (A3664/S868) intends to remove that statute of limitations and Marigliano wants to help make that happen. The legislation will apply to all cases of sexual abuse and not just instances related to priests.
For him, it took 40 years to speak up about being abused by a family priest — well beyond the statute of limitations.
“When you’re a child, you are terrified that someone might find out that you were raped or molested,” he said. “Once you become an adult you’re terrified that somebody might look at you as less than a man or less than a woman. At this point in my life, I don’t care anymore.”
He started his journey on Sept. 11 in Cape May and is walking the entire 270-mile distance to Mahwah. On Monday, he made it to Millville. He walks 10 miles a day and every hour he tries to take a break to hydrate himself and massage his feet.
His wife, 64-year-old Maggie Marigliano, walks with him when she can but also follows him in their car.
The outside of the car is plastered with magnetic blue ribbons they’ve been giving out to people. The ribbons direct people to their website about the statute of limitations.
He is also joined by Annette Kissell Nestler, 51, of Upper Deerfield, of SNAP.
“It’s about educating others and about getting the word out there for those people who are still hiding out, living in shame, living in guilt to say, here is my hand,” Nestler said. “It’s OK. You don’t have to feel like that.”
According to Nestler, abuse destroyed her family. Her father was abused by a priest as a child and, when she was 7 years old, he killed himself in front of her. Fourteen months later, her mother died and she became an orphan. Years later when she was seeing a psychologist, she was raped. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder to this day.
On the journey, Nestler is also carrying letters, legal documents, newspaper clippings, photographs and even jewelry from her family to help tell her story.
“I want them to answer for this,” Nestler said while taking out photographs, one at a time, of her mother’s funeral. “No more,” she pauses, fighting back tears. “I want them to answer for all of this.”
As Nestler and Marigliano each get emotional talking about their experiences, Maggie Marigliano is there to comfort them both.
“When I was raped I couldn’t speak out and because I couldn’t,” Marigliano said, pausing to regain himself, “because I couldn’t speak out there were so many other people that were raped.”
Maggie Marigliano moved next to her husband and began to hold his hand.
“They don’t stop they just move on to someone else,” she said, finishing his thought.
Despite his ordeal, Marigliano is still a practicing Catholic. He goes to Mass and prays the rosary. According to him, it’s not the church or the people in the church who cause the harm but certain priests and bishops who enable the behavior.
He also wrote a letter to Pope Francis hoping that he would join him on his walk. The pope will be in Philadelphia later this month for the World Meeting of Families.
“This war is not against the Catholic Church like some bishops will say,” Marigliano said. “It’s against the pedophiles and against these people who have protected the pedophiles and move them around.”
During their walk, the victim advocates hope to stop by legislative offices and homes of lawmakers — especially Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s home.
Along the way, they invite anyone who wants to walk with them to join them — whether it’s for a mile or a block.
“It’s redemption for all of the people who could not speak out,” Marigliano said. “It’s redemption for me. This walk is medicine for my soul and I will never stop fighting for justice. I just pray that the politicians in this state will wake up and do the right thing and protect our kids, not protecting the pedophiles. I pray that they have the courage to pass this bill and to bring justice to so many people.”