Priest's Abuse Victims Find Safety in Numbers

By Steve Israel
Times Herald-Record []
Posted May 19, 2002
Updated Dec. 15, 2010

The boy fidgeted on line outside the classroom in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School in Middletown, where confessions were being heard. When he walked inside and stood in front of Father George Boxelaar, the white-haired priest pulled him between his legs. Holding the boy with one arm, the priest stuck his hand down the front of the child's pants.

The terrified boy ran out of the room, down the hall and through the heavy glass-and-metal doors of the one-story school. He ran down Wawayanda Avenue to his home, then headed to the basement. He wouldn't speak to his mother.

"I want daddy," he said in a small voice.

As soon as his father learned what happened he headed to Mount Carmel Priory where the priest lived.

Boxelaar denied everything, said he pulled the boy close to hear his confession.

Bull, said the boy's father.

"If you ever do anything again, I'll have you arrested," he said.

Father George replied with a threat, similar to one he would make to another parent 12 years later:

Another priest was there, too. He told the father what so many parents would hear. Kissing, hugging and touching was a European tradition. Boxelaar was from Holland.

Meanwhile, the boy's mother was calling a lawyer, who said they could bring charges against Boxelaar. But the little boy would have to testify.

And she called the mothers of other boys on the confession line. She learned Boxelaar touched their sons, too. But they didn't want to come forward, and they didn't want their sons to testify. After all, this was 1973 in rural, close-knit Orange County, where churchgoers were neighbors and word spread like sprawl does today. And besides, who fought the church?

Said one mother:

"I was raised never to say anything bad about the Catholic church."

Safety in numbers

It is a story heard over and over in recent months; children, now grown, who say they were sexually abused by one of the most trusted and authoritative people in their young lives, the family priest. For decades they remained silent, but now, finally, they are being heard and believed. Their sheer volume — — at least 85 at the hands of three Orange County priests — gives them the strength to come forward after years of silence.

The Times Herald-Record first wrote about Father George Boxelaar several weeks ago, and many victims have come forward since. In all, the Record knows of at least 25 boys who say the now-deceased Boxelaar abused them, boys who were abused for at least 12 years after Boxelaar was first reported to the church.

The abuse, the victims say, happened while Boxelaar served at Holy Cross in South Centerville and Our Lady of the Scapular in Unionville. The boys were all pre-adolescent.

And while the Record knows of 25 victims, it's likely dozens more were abused during Boxelaar's 28 years as a Carmelite priest, experts say.

"A true pedophile doesn't stop," said Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen. "If you have victims in the '70s, you would have victims in 2002. Unless he dies."

Once a boy reaches adolescence, a pedophile moves on to other, younger boys, experts say.

"There could be many, many more," says Carla Potter, a psychotherapist and former clinical director of the Child Study Center in Goshen.

The current provincial, Rev. Michael Driscoll, says the Carmelites' records show they received six complaints about Boxelaar, five in the '80s, one of in the '70s. Every other Mount Carmel provincial since the '70s, except for Rev. Matthias DesLauriers, is dead.

DesLauriers, who is now in Italy, became provincial just before Boxelaar was removed.

"We did everything that was appropriate at the time in terms of psychologists," said DesLauriers, adding, "It seems there's a witch hunt in the States."

Gathering courage

The men and their families say they're speaking out now because they weren't heard before.

Some were ashamed.

"I screwed up the most important part of my life," said one mother of a Boxelaar victim. "I didn't protect my son."

Some couldn't believe the kindly old priest abused their boys. And still others say they were threatened with legal action, even excommunication.

And some were afraid to relive their fear.

They say they're still haunted by the terror felt when the rubbing of shoulders turned to open-mouthed kissing in the confessional. They still feel the disgust when kissing turned to groping.

One can still feel the guilt when he pushed Father George away so hard, the elderly priest fell over.

Then there are the parents who reported the abuse to church officials, first in the '70s, then in the '80s.

Now, they're sick to learn that Boxelaar kept abusing boys until he was sent back to Holland in 1985.

"I can forgive him,'' one mother says, "But I can't forgive the people who let this happen.''

But learning there were other victims allowed them to step forward and release the fury of emotions repressed for decades.

"I thought I was all alone," says one man, who hopes to form a support group with other victims. "It sounds strange, but it helps me to know there were others."

That makes sense to experts.

"They realize there are other survivors out there, that they're being listened to and believed," says Rev. Gary Hays, head of the national Link Up Survivors of Clergy Abuse organization.

The victims and their families also hope shedding light on the darkness will ease the pain.

"I hope the present revelations will facilitate the healing for those men and parents," says one mother.

In 1981, that mother felt so alone she called the church anonymously to report the abuse of her son. She was told that Father George could be moved out of the church without causing a fuss.

But when she learned a young boy at Holy Cross refused to serve as an altar boy because of Father George, she complained again.

She was told Father George was sent away for treatment.

A year later, she heard he'd been found kissing a boy.

She complained again.

Then Father George showed up unannounced in her home. He stood in her living room, arms folded and said:

"If you create scandal in the church, you can be excommunicated."

"Leave my home," said the mother.

It had been four years since she'd first complained; 12 years since the father of the 8-year-old making his first confession complained. Finally, some parents took action.

They went to the state police. They told the church they would go to the press.

And one night, two plainclothes troopers visited the home of the parents of an abuse victim.

"We can prosecute," the parents were told, "but the kids might have to testify."

The parents didn't want their son to relive the terror.

Father George would be forced to leave the country.

But before Father George left for Holland, some parishioners threw a going away party for the priest.

Some victims of Rev. George Boxelaar want to form a support group. To learn more, contact this e-mail address:













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