Sex­ual abuse took away his dream

As law­mak­ers push to help vic­tims, some say scars from their child­hood will al­ways re­main

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bren­dan J. Lyons

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.”

Pro­vided photo

Stephen J. Erick­son and Mar­garet Sorokey mar­ried in 1999 but later di­vorced. She’ll ad­vo­cate Mon­day for the Child Vic­tims Act.

Times union ar­chive

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.

Mer­cure

Hu­bert

Green­berg

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