Priest discusses abuse in his past

By JOSHUA L. WEINSTEIN, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
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Staff photo by John Ewing

The Rev. Gary Hayes of Kentucky speaks Wednesday night at the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. His speech was sponsored by Voice of the Faithful.

For a time, he did not sound like a priest.

The Rev. Gary Hayes spoke about hating God. About abusing alcohol.

And Wednesday night, in a church that was not his own - the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland would not let him speak in a Catholic church here - he spoke about why: As a high school freshman, he was sexually assaulted, again and again, by priests.

Hayes, who addressed about 150 people at the Woodfords Congregational Church, is working on healing. He is working, too, on helping other survivors heal, and on preventing more children from being victimized by priests.

His speech was sponsored by Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics who want to address the issue of sexual abuse by priests and work for changes in the church.

Hayes, who is a parish priest in Cloverdale, Ky., is known nationally for being outspoken on the abuse issue. His bishop, he said, supports him. But Mike Sweatt and Paul Kendrick, who are members of Voice of the Faithful in Maine, said the bishop here, Joseph Gerry, has rejected offers to sponsor his speech.

Before his talk, Hayes said his message is that "there's a way out of hell. The way out is discovering that the One that is greater than all of us is greater than the abuse that I suffered."

And in a Congregational church, Hayes told of that abuse, told of his religious upbringing in a devout family, told of always wanting to be a priest, told of the new priest who gave him alcohol and ultimately molested and threatened him.

"It just got to be a hellish existence. And how do you tell when you're 15 and 16? How do you tell?"

Hayes described his feelings of failure. He described, too, the failure of the church when he told the bishop in his hometown what had happened to him.

Officials there acknowledged to him that they knew the priest had been abusing children.

They chose, he said, to do nothing. The bishop, he said, "was patronizing and condescending. He asked me if I knew when this problem started. He told me that it started when Catholics stopped listening to the Pope on birth control."

The bishop did not remove the priest, who abused more and eventually died in prison, after a 12-year-old boy told his parents of abuse.

Others told Hayes to get over it.

"I don't have violent tendencies," he said, "but when someone tells me to just get over it, I have to pray real hard. How do you get over this?"

Hayes spoke simply, standing at an altar, rather than behind a lectern.

He spoke of terror, of faith, of renewal.

He spoke of Geraldo Rivera.

One day, he explained, an appointment canceled, and so he went upstairs and started channel-surfing. Rivera came on - a program about survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It changed Hayes' life. He was ordained by then, and working in Kentucky.

And he went to a meeting of other survivors. Their stories were his, and he started talking about what had happened to him.

Hayes is a parish priest, but he travels all over the country talking about what happened, talking about change.

Abuse, he said, "happens too often in our church. Too, too often. It has got to stop. You - you - have got to do something. I am so glad that you are here tonight. There are kids out there like me. That need your help."

He told the crowd that "I believe God is calling you . . . to do what his shepherds will not do."

Staff Writer Joshua L. Weinstein can be contacted at 791-6368 or at:

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