One Priest’s Plea to Pope Francis

His Holiness: Francis I
Domus Sanctae Marthae
Vatican City 00120
August 28, 2018

Your Holiness:

I write this letter as a priest and as a pastor, but also as the victim of child sexual abuse. In this letter, I make an appeal to you to act as Peter and intervene and end the control of the Church here in America by Judases: men who put on a pretense of being a disciple but, like Judas, betray Christ at every opportunity they get.

Let me explain my request. When I was a young boy of 11, I was sexually abused by a neighbor, a man who, instead of driving me home, drove me in his car to a garage, and once in the garage in a locked, car abused me. As this age, I did not really know about sex, let alone predatory homosexuals. After the man finished his abuse of me, I was finally able to break free from his control and get out of his locked car, his locked garage, locked yard and I found my way home in the night. Once in the house, I stripped off my torn and bloody clothes and scalded myself in the bath. The water could not be hot enough to wash the stink of that man off of me.

The water could not be hot enough to wash the stink of that man off of me. That night, I bundled up all my bloody clothes and hid them in the neighbor’s garbage can; I did not want anyone to know what had happened to me. In the weeks after the abuse, the same man tried to trick me again into his car. He would wait outside my school, and once I spotted him, I would go back into school and out of another door to make my way home. I never let this man near me again. Time passed and, eventually, this man moved on to easier targets. I learned my lesson, and to this day I will never get into a car with anyone I don’t know. Even as an adult, I’ve traveled the world, but never by taxi. Never again in my life will I get into any vehicle with a stranger.

Children are resilient, and I was blessed with good parents and a good pastor in my home parish. My pastor over time was able to explain to me what had happened, and why what happened to me was not my fault.

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “You’re a good-looking boy with bright blue eyes, tall for your age and this man found you an easy target. Your parents taught you to be trusting and kind, but not all people are to be trusted!”

Time passed and, at 17 years of age, I wrote to St. John the Baptist Province of Franciscans and, in the fall of 1979, began studies to become a Franciscan priest. All went well with the Franciscans, and the Jesuit priests from whom I took my instruction at the University of Detroit were exceptional and holy men. I took two years of ancient Greek from Fr. Ed Miller and also studied the gospels in their original languages from him, and to this day, I have never met another man as smart and as holy as he.

In the aftermath of a priest sexually abusing me at 19, Fr. Miller would prove to be my savior. His words of encouragement and his prayers would keep me from killing myself in the aftermath of sexual abuse. But, I am jumping the gun here, so I will backtrack.

As a young Franciscan, we were encouraged by the friars to have an apostolate. To accomplish this, I began working between courses at a large nursing home in Detroit, the Bertha Fisher Home for the Aged, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. I found that working as an orderly suited me well, so back in Chicago on summer break, and following my mother’s recommendation, I applied to work in a large Catholic nursing home in the Chicago suburbs: Villa Scalabrini.

At Scalabrini, I was hired on the spot, literally. That summer, my father let me use his fancy sports car, and after parking it amongst the shabby old vehicles in the Scalabrini lot, a middle-aged, very fat priest approached me and asked me what I was doing with such a fancy car in his parking lot.

I told him the truth: “My mother sent me over here to inquire about working here at Scalabrini over the summer. I am a seminarian with the Franciscans and already have experience working as an orderly. My father takes the bus to work, this is his new car.”

The old priest responded, “My name is Father Larry Cozzi and I am the administrator of this facility. I am certain you will do well. Come back tomorrow morning at seven and report in to Mrs. Becker, she is the nursing coordinator.”

And that was that; applying for a job at Scalabrini was just that simple, that is if you were a tall young man with bright blue eyes. And things went well for the first part of the summer of 1982. Father Cozzi would take me off of the nursing wing from time to time; “Take a break with me, Paul, the lunch served in my dining room is so much better than the staff cafeteria.”

And as my own pastor, Fr. Corbo, was a frequent dinner guest at our family home, I took no note of how odd all this was, to my detriment. Things went well up until August in 1982 when Fr. Cozzi announced that he really needed me to work the night shift: “Paul, it’s impossible to get good people to work this overnight shift. You’re just the man for the job.”

As a mature adult now, at 56, I still fault myself for what would play out in the middle of the night a week or two after this shift change. That night, Fr. Cozzi lured me away from the patient floors of the facility to the basement wing, beyond the kitchen “to have some nice dinner, as compared to your bag lunch from home.” After I went into his dining room, he came in after me and bolted the door, turned out the lights and began to abuse me.

I froze and as he worked me over. I tried to shut out what was happening in my mind, all the trauma of the abuse 10 years prior flooding back, blindsided a second time and hating myself all the more for not seeing it coming. While the abuse played out, I clung to the bookshelves, along a wall in the room, trying to disappear into them, I wanted the Earth to swallow me and remove me from the spot.

Enough said: After the abuse ended, I walked out of the facility never to return and made my way to my home parish Holy Rosary on Western Avenue in Chicago and waited for my pastor to finish the morning Mass. After Mass was over, I asked the pastor, Fr. Alfred Corbo, to hear my confession and he heard it. I told him everything that transpired. I wanted to die. I felt so dirty and I could not cope with what had taken place, I just sat in a chair in his office, and cried.

While I sat in the parish office, opposite Fr. Corbo’s desk, I watched him go to work, making phone calls, trying to help me, the broken young man before him, as best he could. Father Corbo called Scalabrini and confronted Fr. Cozzi for what he did to me. Father Corbo called and talked to someone in Cdl. Cody’s chancery and reported what had happened to me. And as the good priest and pastor that he was, he did his best to reassure me that I could go on with my plan to be ordained a Franciscan priest — to go on with it all.And I took what Father Corbo said to heart, and for a couple of years, I jumped through the formation hoops with becoming a Franciscan priest, but I still wanted to die. I just wanted to exit out. I could not live with what gay predators had done to me — not once, but twice. During this period of time, I was diagnosed with chronic major depression with suicidal ideations. And even more tragic than this psychological diagnosis was a shattered faith.

In the abuse’s aftermath, I did not know what I believed, nor who to believe, nor who could be trusted. “How could a good God put such monstrous men in this world?”

My solace during this period of time was the Book of Job. In the aftermath of abuse, I was like Job, I had nothing left. My youth, my innocence, my virginity, all had been stolen from me by monstrous predatory gay men: one lay and one a priest. On Dec. 12, 1985, I left the Franciscan order never to seek to take vows again. It was not because I did not love St. Francis, nor wish to follow his example, but because I was a broken man. “Once the tree was felled, no storm could right it.”

But, God is good and gracious! Immediately after leaving the Franciscans, on Christmas Eve of 1985, I applied for a job to replace a special ed teacher going on maternity leave. I was hired on the spot and in the new year of 1986 started an 11-year career of providing services, teaching, housing and such, for the developmentally disabled in Chicago.

I found that I thrived working with these little ones, and over time, became a successful administrator of many facilities serving them. In January of 1995, I was the director and administrator for 28 facilities for the developmentally disabled in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I had a multi-million-dollar budget for the group homes I ran and hundreds of support staff to manage. And in the midst of all of this, I heard God calling me back to my first vocation, which was to be a priest. In the fall of 1995, at age 35, I returned to the seminary. My ordination as a priest for the archdiocese of Chicago was in the spring of 1999.

In the aftermath of the abuse, I was a changed man, haunted both in my dreams as well as when awake. Even now, all these years later, I suffer from flashbacks of what transpired and the pain and anger come back, even though the principals of my abuse are now all long since dead. These past three weeks of August have been exceptionally hard for me, with all the perverse revelations in the media, day by day. As Kipling wrote so many years ago: “A thing is not settled until it is settled well.” And in August of 2018, nothing has been settled well with respect to predator gay priests and bishops, as well as homosexual cabals running chancelleries.

In my case, Cdl. Cody died a year after Fr. Cozzi abused me. My pastor’s calls to his chancellery went nowhere. And Fr. Cozzi would die from complications owing from diabetes in 1999. Both these men, Cdl. Cody and Fr. Lawrence Cozzi, would be given lavish funerals by the Church and buried in Catholic cemeteries, and yet both men were monsters, Judases of sorts. Cody died leaving a legacy in Chicago for his St. Louis, Missouri mistress.

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