Watching “Spotlight,” the movie about The Boston Globe’s investigation of Massachusetts clergy who raped children, and reading about employees of St. George’s School in Middletown who sexually abused students, has prompted memories of my 1960s and ‘70s childhood.
Only luck, I have concluded, spared me and my friends the fate of these many victims.
Back then, we were youngsters in a world where authority was accepted without question, and where certain authorities with sanctioned access to children — clergy, teachers, coaches and scout leaders among them — were almost god-like in stature.
It was a world of blind obedience and absolute trust of elders. And it was a world where monsters cloaked in authority roamed free, although no grownup warned us of that.
A resident of Wakefield, Mass., a Boston suburb, I spent eight years at St. Joseph parochial school and was an altar boy during much of that time at the parish church, which was under the control of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The priests I knew best at St. Joseph were good stewards. But another, William F. Maloney, whom I saw only at Mass, was later accused of sexually abusing someone in the late 1960s at another parish in North Reading, four miles from my home.
A ten-minute drive would have brought me to St. Patrick’s Parish in neighboring Stoneham, where my parents could just as easily have settled when buying their first house. I would have been an altar boy — with Bryan Schultz, who was repeatedly molested by Paul R. Shanley, one of the worst pedophile priests, assigned to St. Patrick’s during much of the 1960s. Father James R. Porter, another monster, was with Shanley in Stoneham in 1967.
As the reporter played by Mark Ruffalo declares in “Spotlight”: “It could have been any one of us!”
In eighth grade, I won a scholarship to St. John’s Prep, in Danvers, Mass., an all-boys school where I received a superb education. I was a day student and never saw headmaster Brother Ricardo, an outwardly warm and charming man, outside the classroom context. But boarders did. They saw also another brother who lived in one dorm – and they told stories of him inviting them to his room for illicit cigarettes and requests to shower naked with him. To my knowledge, this man was never formally accused of sexually abusing a student. But Brother Ricardo, whose given name was Richard Kerressey, was.
In 1994, a former student accused Kerressey of sodomizing him in the school infirmary in 1966. After the rape, according to the victim, Kerressey threatened to keep him from graduating if he told anyone. The grown man claimed his life was ruined, with suffering from “depression, affective disorder, rage attacks, sleep apnea … attention/concentration deficit … is unable to hold a job or even at this point work,” according to a 1994 letter (available on bishopaccountability.org) by the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, which represented victims of Porter and Shanley.
Did Kerressey have more victims? We probably will never know, since some of an abuser’s victims take their secrets with them to the grave. Indeed, it is possible that some of my childhood friends were abused but have never disclosed it. If so, I hope they, and all victims, can find peace in their later years.
The record is unclear on what action, if any, was taken against Kerressey, who left St. John’s after my junior year and died in 1996. To its credit, St. John’s more recently moved responsibly against another brother and a priest chaplain who were accused of abusing students. And the Archdiocese of Boston — headed now by a holy man, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, who succeeded the unholy and unrepentant Cardinal Bernard Law, in charge when many of the more than 800 known victims allege they were abused — has apologized, paid damages, sought justice and enacted real protections.
We say this must never happen again. One way toward that goal is never forgetting what happened, and what didn’t. Luck is not enough to protect children.
G. Wayne Miller, a Providence Journal staff writer and author, graduated from St. John’s Prep in 1972 and Harvard College in 1976.