Priest abuse victim: They stole most sacred thing I had

Catholic priest abuse survivor Mike McDonnell tells CNN's Erica Hill that he loved going to church as an 11-year-old boy, and his church stole that away from him.

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 8:03 AM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 8:21 AM

A Pennsylvania man reflected Thursday on what he says two sexually abusive Catholic priests "stole" from him -- and how his state's lawmakers could stand up for survivors.

"They stole the most sacred thing that I had, and that was my Catholic Church," Mike McDonnell told CNN's Erica Hill two days after the release of a damning grand jury report that shows more than 300 "predator priests" in six Pennsylvania dioceses have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims since the 1940s.

"An 11-year-old kid loved going to church with his parents. I could sing 'Pange Lingua' in Latin and in English," said McDonnell, who publicly has accused and sued two priests in the Diocese of Philadelphia, which was not covered by the latest grand jury report.

"They stole that from me," he said.

One priest accused by McDonnell was defrocked, while the other was removed from public ministry, diocesan records show.

McDonnell has been open about his struggles within his marriages and with substance abuse, which he attributes to his childhood trauma.

But he also said his alleged abusers didn't take everything from him.

"Today, I have faith. I have faith in God. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for God," McDonnell told Hill. "My spirituality is there. Religion, to me, is for those who are scared to death of hell. Spirituality is for people like me, who have been there."

Statute of limitations could expand

The Vatican has declined to comment on the grand jury report, even as McDonnell and others are calling for accountability.

"I timed out (of the statute of limitations) at age 15. Ask an 11-year-old what a statute of limitations is," McDonnell said. "And ask that same 11-year-old when he or she would like to tell their story about a sexual experience that they had with a Catholic priest."

The grand jury in its report recommended eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecuting clergy accused of sex crimes, noting that "no piece of legislation can predict the point at which a victim of child sex abuse will find the strength to come forward."

Pennsylvania law currently allows child victims of sexual crimes to pursue criminal charges against their abusers until age 50, and they can file civil lawsuits until age 30.

A bill before the state House, SB 261, would eliminate the time limit for prosecutions and move the lawsuit ceiling to age 50. It has rested in the House since 2017, when the Senate passed it unanimously.

"We're charging Pennsylvania lawmakers to do the right thing," McDonnell said. "There's two choices here, there's two votes: You're either voting 'yes' for predators or you're voting 'yes' for victims and survivors. This is not complex."

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