Lawyers Journal

Call to LRS helps victim abused by priest

For years a man from Southeastern Massachusetts kept his secret of being abused and betrayed by a Roman Catholic priest from his family and friends.

As he suffered for decades with the lasting impacts of the abuse he suffered as a child - from alcohol addition to drug problems - the man remained unable to talk about what happened.

That was until the priest sexual abuse scandal broke in the news in January 2002 and the man finally got the courage to seek help. One of the first places he turned for that help was the MBA's Lawyers Referral Service.

After going to a local district attorney's office to report the abuse that happened to him in the early 1970s, prosecutors told him they could not seek charges against the priest because of the statute of limitations. When a prosecutor encouraged him to speak with a lawyer about a civil complaint, the man called LRS and was referred to Brockton attorney Paul Silvia. He called the attorney on March 12, 2002, and came to Silvia's office the next day.

"He came to my office and I realized how profound this impact was on him … You could just see it on his face," Silvia said. "He was a very kind man, but you could tell he had been through a lot, serious drug and alcohol problems, which he was able to overcome. But he said he lost a lot of years in his life because of this."

It was so painful for the man to talk about being abused by the priest that Silvia asked the man if he would mind if he recorded the conversation. Silvia worried he might interrupt the man's train of thought by taking notes.

"I didn't want to miss anything and have to make him relive it on another day," he said. "It was the first time he had ever discussed this with anyone in detail."

The man told Silvia and later attorney Mark F. Itzkowitz that his family's parish priest had befriended his parents when he was about 12 years old. He would come over and visit and drink beer with the parents and have dinner at their house, staying overnight occasionally. The abuse lasted until the boy was approximately 15, Silvia said.

"He reported that both he and a brother were molested and he also suspects very very strongly a deceased brother of his was also molested," Silvia said.

The other brother died of a heroin overdose after battling drug addiction the brothers suspected stemmed from being sexually abused by the priest. The boys never told their parents what happened because of the influence the priest had on their lives and to their Catholic family.

"For a Catholic family to have the priest in their home was just the most wonderful thing and such an honor for them to be chosen out of all of the families in the community," Silvia said. "And so with the kids, knowing the exalted image that their parents had of this priest, they couldn't say anything."

Silvia knew immediately that the man would need help from another attorney who was handling priest abuse cases due to their complexity.

"I knew that my being a solo practitioner would not be efficient for the client or for me to try to handle this thing by myself so I put in calls to other attorneys who I knew were handling these cases and they were so overwhelmed that one didn't even return my call," Silvia said.

Another attorney referred Silvia to Itzkowitz because he had the experience and background to handle abuse cases.

"I felt the client could get individualized attention from him and I sensed that's what he needed," Silvia said.

Itzkowitz, who has been involved in the litigation of sexual abuse cases since 1985, was among the approximately 50 lawyers who were attempting to negotiate a settlement with the Boston Archdiocese at the time.

After speaking with the man, Itzkowitz later talked with his brother, who was abused by the same priest. A majority of the abuse took place in the boys' home, but incidents also occurred when the priest was allowed to take the children on vacation and car trips such as to Cape Cod, Itzkowitz said.

Through Silvia's initial work and Itzkowitz's intense involvement in the case, the two brothers became among the more than 500 victims to be compensated through an $85 million settlement agreement reached between the victims and the Archdiocese of Boston. The settlement represented the single largest amount ever reached in a case of clergy sexual abuse.

Handling the sexual abuse cases also had a profound impact on the lawyers.

Though he's been handling sexual abuse cases for nearly 20 years, Itzkowitz said the only time his wife had to wake him up in the middle of the night because he was screaming was the night before the case was going to arbitration.

"What happened to these young boys is beyond belief," he said. "And the effect it had on the entire family … these two that we represented came from a very sizeable family and the oldest brother died of a heroin overdose and overnight the kid went from being a straight A student to being a drug addict and having his whole world taken apart."

Both Silvia and Itzkowitz complimented each other on assisting the men with the case. Itzkowitz credited Silvia for giving the man attention and helping him find a solution. And Silvia said Itzkowitz's expertise helped the men settle their case favorably.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association