Sexual abuse took away his dream
As lawmakers push to help victims, some say scars from their childhood will always remain
It was the only time they would kiss.
Stephen J. Erickson and his bride, Margaret Sorokey, stood at the altar of Schenectady’s St. John the Evangelist Church — renowned for its towering iron cross, oak pews and imported European windows — and recited their vows.
They were married on Oct. 2, 1999. For better or for worse.
“He just wanted, like any person’s dream, just to get married and have children,” Sorokey said. “But he could never function right . ... It had to do with the abuse that happened when he was a child.”
On Monday, less than a month after Erickson died from cancer at age 55, Sorokey will stand at the state Capitol with supporters of the Child Victims Act, calling on state leaders to pass legislation expanding New York’s statute of limitations for rape and sexual abuse.
In its current form, the legislation would give victims who were raped or sexually abused decades ago a one-year window to seek justice through civil litigation, something many religious and other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, have vehemently opposed.
Buoyed by the new Demo-
cratic majority in the state Senate, where Republicans had for years blocked passage of the legislation, the advocates and survivors are hopeful this year the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who supports his own version, will finally make it law.
But for many of the victims, the legislation will not undo the emotional scars or tattered lives they have endured.
“The damage that’s done once you’re sexually abused, it never can be fully repaired,” said Gary Greenberg, who was sexually abused as a 7-year-old by a hospital worker, and is founder of the Fighting for Children PAC. “There are silent victims out there who suffer every day, and I think of them. The Child Victims Act is not the answer for everybody. It’s not going to make the pain go away for victims.”
For Erickson, the alleged abuse took place at the hands of a middle school janitor, Eugene Hubert Jr., who Erickson said repeatedly raped him during a two-year period in the late 1970s, when Erickson was a young student attending the now-closed St. Teresa of Avila in Albany.
Scarred from the assaults and apparently determined to tell no one about it, he soldiered through his life, having a few brushes with police in recent years as he secretly carried the burden of the abuse and left those close to him often puzzled by his distant demeanor and aversion to intimacy.
Erickson’s dysfunctional marriage to Sorokey had lasted about a decade — they separated in 2010 and divorced five years later. Still, Sorokey said she learned about his abuse only last year, as Erickson was battling the terminal cancer that led to his death four days before Christmas.
“If I knew all this before, if he told me, our marriage could have been different,” Sorokey said.
Erickson had shared his story with the Times Union in 2012, but at that time requested anonymity, saying he did not want his son and other family members to know what happened.
Howard Erickson, one of Stephen Erickson’s four siblings, said he only learned of his brother’s sexual abuse several years ago and, looking back, realizes that it explains why his brother had suddenly changed around the eighth grade and remained that way the rest of his life.
“He became a very distant, quiet type of guy,” Howard Erickson said. “He was very, very secluded, to the point where he wouldn’t even want people to know where he was living . ... He just went sideways. It’s a terrible story.”
Still, he was not the only sexual abuse survivor to emerge from St. Teresa’s, nor was he alone in his struggle to cope with the emotional scarring.
Numerous other men have said they were sexually abused at the longclosed St. Teresa’s — by Hubert or by Gary Mercure, a now-defrocked priest serving 25 years in a Massachusetts state prison for raping boys.
Many of those abused at St. Teresa’s have recounted a life derailed by drug abuse, crime, emotional problems or alcoholism. They say the Child Victims Act would bring some justice for what happened, but will not undo the toll on their lives and families.
Jack Cesare, who says he was sexually abused by Hubert around the same time as Erickson, has accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany of running a “sex ring” at St. Teresa’s in the 1970s and 1980s, noting that the allegations of rape and sexual abuse there had stretched over years.
Cesare, an outspoken critic of the Albany diocese’s handling of sexual abuse complaints, has said he immersed himself in the game of tennis as a young man, which provided an outlet that may have saved him from turning to drugs or alcohol.
“After Gene Hubert did that to me, I know my life was full of pain,” he said. “It shouldn’t take this long to get justice . ... I knew deep down something was wrong and that it wasn’t supposed to happen. I kept all that inside me in eighth grade, living with torture, but my torture didn’t end there.”
Cesare said that for several years after he was sexually abused — allegations that the diocese later acknowledged were likely true — he would walk to visit his grandparents who lived near the school and cringe if he saw Hubert outside shoveling snow or mowing grass.
“I had to go around the other way,” he added.
Another classmate at St. Teresa’s, who asked not to be identified, said he had also been sexually abused by Hubert, who died in 1997 at the age of 54, and that it led him down a path in which he sought sex and attention from older men.
The man said that as a young boy, knowing he was gay but deathly afraid to tell anyone, he “put himself in the way” of Hubert.
“The next thing I knew I was in the basement of the school having sex with him,” he said. “People who love me scare me . ... I’m in therapy.”
The man said his childhood memories are a shattered picture, and he doubts that Hubert, who was apparently fired from St. Teresa’s for undisclosed reasons, could have abused so many boys without someone knowing.
“One by one, all the dreams of my childhood were surrendered, and now I’m struggling to remember what they were,” he said. “It’s inconceivable to me that they didn’t know.”
Another former student at
St. Teresa’s, who asked to be identified only by his first name, David, recounted being raped by Mercure in the rectory of the adjacent parish. He said it happened several years after Cesare and Erickson were abused by Hubert.
“He used to always take us to Mcdonald’s,” said David, now 49. “Sometimes he would take me alone up to his rectory. He would get on top of me and start kissing me and fondling me and touching me inappropriately. He would take my hand and put it on his penis.”
David said he couldn’t say with certainty that his life got off track due to the abuse, but it has been problematic.
“Growing up I didn’t get along with my father,” he said. “I became a drug addict and an alcoholic . ... Living on the streets. Skin and bones. I got arrested and went to jail,” he added, noting he finally sought treatment and has been clean and sober.
Michael Flynn, an outspoken
“It shouldn’t take this long to get justice . ... I knew deep down something was wrong and that it wasn’t supposed to happen. I kept all that inside me in eighth grade, living with torture, but my torture didn’t end there.” — Jack Cesare
encounter with Mercure at St. Teresa’s while attending school there, testified before the Massachusetts grand jury that indicted the priest in 2008.
Flynn said he had indecent encounters at St. Teresa’s with both Hubert and Mercure, but escaped the situations without being abused.
In one incident, he said that after Hubert had him help clear snow outside the school he invited Flynn to take a shower in a girls’ locker room. Hubert, he said, emerged from the shower and stretched out on a bench and began stroking himself. Flynn said he quickly left.
On another occasion, Flynn said, Mercure, who would ask Flynn’s mother for permission to take him to the movies and sometimes Mcdonald’s, had summoned him to the rectory and had dropped his pants and was stroking himself as Flynn, then a young boy, emerged from a bathroom.
Flynn said that Mercure was on the telephone with the Rev. David Bentley, a former priest who church officials said lived at St. Teresa of Avila parish from 1977 to 1982, and was later removed from ministry by the diocese for sexual abuse allegations involving minors. Bentley quickly arrived at the rectory after Mercure called him and knocked on the door.
“That was my chance to get out,” Flynn said. “I believe he (Bentley) thought they were both going to have a shot.”
An investigation years later by the diocese included an interview with a former rectory secretary who recalled Mercure regularly bringing young boys into his bedroom or office.
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who was appointed bishop of the Albany diocese in 2014, wrote a letter to his clergy members last July calling the Catholic church’s reckoning on sexual abuse “much more than a crisis of policies and procedures.”
Last week, in response to questions about the diocese’s handling of the allegations and abuse at St. Teresa of Avila, Scharfenberger acknowledged the church had failed.
“I admire the bravery of those who have come forward to share their stories of betrayal and pain to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse,” he said. “The fact is, the heinous crimes of some within the church and our institutional failings shattered children’s lives and haunted survivors for decades. We did not do enough to protect God’s children and we must focus on rebuilding the trust we broke.”
The bishop also indicated that he supports legislation that would assist the survivors of abuse.
“I pray that legislators will work together to strengthen the Child Victims Act in a way that best serves victim survivors,” he said. “We support strengthening this legislation by eliminating the criminal statute of limitations and offering assistance that affords all victims the opportunity to be heard as they heal.”
Stephen J. Erickson and Margaret Sorokey married in 1999 but later divorced. She’ll advocate Monday for the Child Victims Act.
in a 2012 meeting at the times union, michael flynn, left, and Jack Cesare, right, discussed how they were victimized. flynn said father Gary mercure exposed himself to flynn in the early 1980s. Cesare, of florida, was sexually abused by a janitor at St. teresa of Avila in Albany, where the incident with flynn also took place.