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Local Abuse Survivors React to NBC Survey of Catholic Church Employees



    Local Abuse Survivors React to NBC Survey of Catholic Church

    For the roughly two million Catholics who live in D.C., Maryland and Virginia -- clergy sex abuse has caused heartache and distrust. So the News4 I-Team partnered with NBC-owned stations around the country to see what people who work within the Catholic Church think about where it stands now. Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer has more on what we found. (Published Monday, Nov. 25, 2019)

    For the roughly two million Catholics who live in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, clergy sex abuse has caused heartache and distrust within an institution gripped by scandal for nearly two decades.

    The News4 I-Team partnered with NBC-owned stations around the country to ask those who know the church best where they think it stands now. We sent a 26-question survey to more than 32,000 priests, deacons, nuns and other church workers around the country.

    Nearly 3,000 responded — including more than 400 priests, more than 240 nuns, and nearly 1,900 lay employees — answering questions about everything from ordaining women and married men as priests to whether the Church should recognize gay marriage.

    • Local abuse survivors react to the survey of Catholic Church employees Monday on News4 at 6

    Two local survivors shared their reaction to responses about the handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

    Explore the full survey results

    "That's crazy," said Jim Bucci in response to the very first question.

    He was stunned that nearly 82% of the clergy and staff who responded to the survey said the clergy sex abuse scandal was handled properly by the church.

    "They want to believe that they're doing the right thing," Bucci added.

    Bucci, now 58, was a student and altar boy at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton, Maryland, where he says two priests abused him, beginning when he was just 8 years old.

    "I was taught how to do it, what to do, what made him feel good," Bucci told the I-Team.

    He says one of the priests told him he was satisfying God while performing the abusive acts. Bucci says, at the time, he didn't understand what was happening, that it was wrong.

    "Over time, I started not to want to do things. And so he raped me, and I fought back after he raped me," said Bucci, who was a teenager by then.

    He says he turned to alcohol and then drugs, even landing in prison at age 30. A therapist eventually helped him see that it wasn't his fault, though he says he hated God for a long time.

    "I had so much anger," Bucci said. "It will never go away. I learn to not let it enslave me anymore, to rule my life, to hurt over it."

    Becky Ianni shares Bucci's belief that workers within the church would, of course, be quicker to defend it.

    She heads the Northern Virginia chapter of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests and found some contradiction within the survey results.

    "If you handled something properly, then wouldn't you be 100% thinking that it's no longer a problem?” said Ianni.

    But when the I-Team asked that question in the survey, 39% of respondents said sex abuse/misconduct in the Catholic Church "is still a major problem."

    "It's still going on. It's going on worldwide because they're still protected and the priests know they're protected," said Bucci. "They know that the church is going to back them up."

    “They don't square," Ianni said of the respondents and their answers. "It's almost like they were confused within themselves."

    Explore the full survey results

    Bill Donohue with the Catholic League says it isn't confusion. He blames media coverage, which he says ramped up as the sex abuse scandal was ending.

    "You get this projection that this is still going on," said Donohue. "Most of the bad guys, most of the priests who molested are either dead or they're out of ministry."

    Donohue says abuse by priests was never more of a problem than in any other field that cares for children. In our survey, 46% of responses echoed that.

    "There are so many bogus stories out there and there are gold diggers," said Donohue. "It's easier to sue the Catholic Church and get money, the bishops will write a check."

    But that differs from what our survey found. Of those who responded, 81% thought victims who sued the diocese are mostly or usually telling the truth. Only 3% thought they were usually making up stories.

    Becky Ianni before the abuse began, and Ianni after the abuse began (inset).
    Photo credit: Becky Ianni

    Ianni says it could be decades before we know if abuse is still happening now.

    "The average age that someone comes forward is something like 52. I didn't come forward til 48," she said.

    She saw an old family photo that triggered flashbacks, eventually unlocking memories of abuse by a priest in Northern Virginia.

    "I buried it completely. I didn't remember him at all," said Ianni. "But it affected me my whole life."

    She says one of the most telling questions in our survey was whether church workers would allow their child to go on an overnight retreat supervised by clergy or a person of trust within their parish. More than half said no — or only with some chaperones, but not others.

    Donohue says that's a reflection of life today, not the church.

    "How many of those people would also have reservations if it was a camp counselor, it was a Boy Scout director, somebody else in the local neighborhood?" Donohue said.

    Explore the full survey results

    Today, neither Bucci nor Ianni consider themselves Catholic. The priests involved in their abuse have since died. The church eventually found both of their claims credible and paid each a settlement.

    "Now my justice is that I still believe in God," said Bucci.

    But Ianni says the way her case was handled by the church destroyed her faith.

    "I felt abandoned not only by the church, I felt abandoned by God. And so, I pulled away from both," she said.

    More than 400 priests participated in our survey, but the overwhelming majority of responses came from women who work in the Church. Tuesday on News4 at 6 p.m., their thoughts on some other controversial issues like whether women or married men should be allowed to be ordained as priests. You'll even hear from a married priest and a woman who claims to be a Catholic priest.

    Explore the full survey here.

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