Hand of God
A Film By
NARRATOR: Tonight on FRONTLINE--
PAUL: All those years when I lived in silence, I believed that I was the only one.
NARRATOR: In recent decades, more than 10,000 children were reportedly sexually abused by Catholic priests. But years before the headlines, one family broke the story for themselves.
JOE: For the 12 years since my brother told me, I've been wondering how he could have hid it so well, and where.
NARRATOR: Tonight, filmmaker Joe Cultrera and his brother, Paul, tell a very personal story--
PAUL: This was my first sexual experience.
NARRATOR: --the story of a secret held for 30 years--
PAUL: I remember him saying, "Now, you don't tell anybody about this. This is part of your penance."
NARRATOR: --of the abuse of power.
PAUL: The Church moved him around from parish to parish. This guy was accused of molesting kids.
NARRATOR: --and the triumph over betrayal.
PAUL: The game's over. You guys are not the ones who can preach to us.
NARRATOR: Tonight on FRONTLINE, one family's encounter with the Hand of God.
DAD: These are all tapes. Take a look at these tapes, the titles. See if you can remember.
JOE: It says "Paul."
DAD: What's this one?
PAUL: I remember places where it happened. I remember smells. I remember the sun coming through the rectory window. I remember the placement of the furniture in the room in the rectory. I remember the red leather upholstery.
I for the life of me cannot remember how long it happened. My guess is that it happened over the course of about four to six months in between the spring and the summer in '64. There's parts that, you just-- you know, I think your subconscious protects you. It just kicks in and-- you don't want to remember that.
It's not the story of my life, it is a thing that happened to me. It's got to be confusing to people. People must wonder, "How could you let this happen to you? Why didn't you tell somebody about it? Why didn't you stop it? Why didn't you walk out of the room?" I think that-- it's hard enough for me to understand how I let it happen to me. I mean, it's hard. You know, that's part of why I sort of beat myself up over for years. You know, I thought I'd let it happen to me.
It's that whole power structure, that whole environment that we're in that allows this to happen, and hopefully, something like this can explain it.
JOE: [voice-over] This is my brother, Paul, my father, Paul, my grandfather, Paul. My name's Joe.
MOM: You know I don't like to be filmed. [laughs]
JOE: This is my mother, Josephine, her father, Joseph. This is Nonna, my grandmother Maria. My sister, Maria. Mary, mother of God.
Here's how it all starts. Salem, Massachusetts, best known for its witchcraft trials and executions. Our small pocket of the city was an Italian neighborhood, close-knit, one house tied to the next by clotheslines, by culture, by bonds of family and friendship. And in that neighborhood, a church, St. Mary's Italian, built in 1925 by the neighbors, a place where everyone met for religion and community, a tribute to lost loved ones.
Down the street was our house, built by my grandfather, Joseph, my mother's father. It's where we grew up and where my parents still live.
MOM: '54, you weren't even born then. [laughs]
DAD: Just Paul and Maria.
JOE: My sister Maria was 10 years older than me, and my brother Paul 9. You lived in this house and you came to know it intimately. On every spare wall, Jesus, Mother Mary and the saints keeping time, tracking our movements. In the hallway, popes and cardinals kept an eye on the door and the stairs.
We lived up those stairs, where the saints made room on the walls for my father's paintings. It was a hobby he came home to after days of factory labor. In this house, there was comfort in details, familiar crevices and paint peels, family hiding places.
For 30 years, my brother Paul hid a secret about something that happened to him in Salem, not far from here. And for the 12 years since he told me, I've been wondering how he could have hid it so well, and where. And so I've been looking back at those hiding spots we both knew and looking for other spots that Paul just kept to himself.
PAUL: It was a big Italian family. Our grandmother and a couple of our aunts and uncles lived downstairs. From time to time, there were various cousins and our older Sicilian relatives who were sharing the space.
MARIA: Nonna, she would talk to us in Italian. And she was a love. It was a wonderful, you know, childhood.
PAUL: Mom had seven brothers and sisters. You know, I'd say for the first 10 years of my life, they all lived in that same house or within a block of each other. You were surrounded by family.
It was very protected, very safe, and very nurturing. There were all these people who clearly loved you, and you were very much like them. Maybe the downside of it was that once you got out into a world where people weren't speaking that dialect and people weren't your family, you know, you could get into some trouble.
DAD: When we first got married, my wife and I agreed that all my children had to have a Catholic education.
PAUL: The Italian church, St. Mary's, didn't have a school. And St. James, which was the Irish parish not that far away, they had a kindergarten through high school. I still dream that I'm in that school building. It was all nuns. There were no lay teachers back in those days.
MARIA: That dress is frightful enough in itself. If you came home and you said, "Oh, Sister Somebody was yelling at me," it wasn't, "What's wrong with Sister," "What's wrong with you? What did you do?" As children, we were very passive. When we were just told to do it, we did it.
PAUL: The May processions were, every year, they would have this procession. They would get every kid from kindergarten all the way up to the graduating girls in the senior class, a long line of kids. Each of their nuns would be standing next to them with a little clicker, keeping them in line. Some girl in the senior class, they'd pick the May queen. They had these little pageboys, with the little blue beret-like puffy hat and the kind of little skirt-like thing. If you could get a kid to dress up like that, you could get a kid to do anything.
There was the Catholic Church, and everything else was hell. Everyone beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church were doomed. Everything was presented to you in terms of sin. I remember these images of hell, souls being tossed down into hell, and the flames coming up and the devil being down there. The vision you had of life that you'd picked up early on was that you had to sort of tread a narrow path. There was a lot of things that you just shouldn't do, and if you did them and had the misfortune of dying soon thereafter, you were going to be one of those souls that were being tossed down into the flames.
So it was sort of this game that you played, where you committed these sins and then you'd go to the confessional on Saturday and reel off your sins. And the priest would say, "Yep, OK. You're safe. Go." And then you'd go out and do it again, and then you'd come back and say it again. I bought it hook, line, and sinker.
The women in our family gave more credence to what the priest would say than they did to their husbands or their brothers or their uncles. That's kind of the way they were brought up. I think it's partly fostered by the whole myth of the priests' purity and moral superiority because they supposedly live this humble existence, apart from the physical pleasures that the rest of the people indulge in.
MARIA: These were the people that could walk on water. They were the authority figures, and whatever they said, we as little lambs would go. We knew nothing else.
PAUL: The priest had the power to turn that host, that piece of bread and the wine, into the body and blood of Christ. And that was something none of us could do. I mean, that was the ultimate magic trick. It was this mystery that you were taking part of. And the priest was the guy who gave you access to that. It all reinforced that sense that these people have a power that we don't have, a direct line up to God.
And that's why I wanted to be an altar boy. You actually handed them the water and the wine, and you were there when they were making this miracle happen. I remember even wanting to be a priest. Early on, that's what I thought was going to happen.
JOE: 1964, me and Billy Mahoney, the smallest kids in the 1st grade class, and have to be the pageboys in the May procession. I cried all day when they gave me that costume to take home. Paul's in high school now, but he's still an altar boy back at St. James. It's an Irish school. All the nuns and all the priests are Irish. Father McCormack and Father Birmingham are the youngest priests. They're not as scary as the old ones.
PAUL: Birmingham, when he first showed up in Salem, was right around the time that the Vatican II was happening and there were a lot of changes in getting rid of the Latin in the mass. And He was young and he was more of a liberal thinker, I'd say, than, you know, the Monsignor O'Learys or Father Screnci down at the Italian church. He was given charge of the altar boys.
Birmingham had this big, shiny, black Ford Galaxy with red leather interior. I mean, it was cool. You know, this young teenage kid in the 1960s, and here's this guy who pulls up in this big, black, shiny car. It was always waxed, and that was my memory of it.
He'd take groups of us for rides. And he was immediately very friendly and gathering us all around and saying, "Let's go to Hampton Beach," and "Let's go to the movies," and "Let's go to Boston." I remember he took us to see Juliet of the Spirits. And I remember he brought us to see a Pasolini film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
He was taking you golfing and taking you to the beach and taking you on ski trips. They had to be covering for him, saying mass, because he wasn't there to do it.
He would have us come over to the rectory on Friday nights and Saturday nights and have pizza parties in the Monsignor's parlor. We'd sit around and watch TV and joke around and do whatever, you know? And it was always a group of us, so I always felt real comfortable going into the rectory. It was like the clubhouse.
You know, growing up, I don't know how many times the word sex was actually mentioned in our house. It just wasn't part of our environment. Those things weren't talked about.
Fourteen, fourteen-and-a-half, I was at a Catholic high school taught by Xaverian brothers. I was pretty shy. I went out with girls a couple of times, but certainly didn't have sex with them at that age. Meanwhile, you know, you're growing up and your hormones are kicking in and you're horny as crazy.
Being as brainwashed as I was, I would actually tell him what I had done. "Bless me Father, I have sinned. It's been," you know, "one week since my last confession. and I lied two times. I talked back to my mother. I jerked off 43 times." He cut right through all the other sins and went right to that one and said, "Well-- well, we need to talk about that." And you know, "I'm going to give you forgiveness but," you know, "what I want you to do is come see me in the rectory."
You walked in and there was an office. He's behind the desk and I'm in a chair, and we discuss this-- this "problem." I remember him saying, "It's kind of normal for boys your age, but it can be a real problem and so we're going to have to work with this." And it was like this merry-go-round. You'd go to confession, you'd confess masturbation, and you'd have to go back to the rectory.
By the third time, I remember him standing up at the top of the stairs and saying, "Send Paul up." I remember going to the top of the stairs and seeing the living room ahead of me, and I remember him saying, "No, we're going to go to my room." I looked around the room, and all there was was a bed and a bureau, you know, maybe a chair.
He says, "What I think part of the problem is that you're too tense." So he says, "Lay down on the bed." He says, "I'm going to give you a back rub. This will help you relax."
I don't know. He's the priest, you know? He's got the hotline to God, you know? He knows-- he's the guy who does the magic. He's everybody's friend. He's not going to hurt me or anything.
I remember him, like, rubbing my shoulders and then rubbing my back, and then sort of sliding his hands under my shirt. And I thought this is a little bit uncomfortable, but I still felt safe. I felt like, "OK," you know, "this is what I get for being a sinner." You know, he's trying to help me out.
I believe it was, like, the second time that he tried the back rub routine on me, it progressed beyond that. He started to undress me and he started to, you know, touch my penis. And he started, you know, having me touch him. And then, you know, he gets his clothes off and he gets in bed, and he's naked and he's got me masturbating him.
At that point, that's where the trauma kicks in and you think, "I'm not here. I couldn't possibly be here. This couldn't possibly be happening." The reason I've come for this counseling is now the thing that he's having me do to him, and he's doing it to me. And I just remember kind of, like, staring at the ceiling.
This was my first sexual experience.
If it was nighttime, it was dark and he'd drive around the streets, you know, have me jerk him off in the car. Or he'd bring me down to the youth center, and I remember down in the basement, he would do it there.
DAD: I only saw him once. He had a car and he dropped Paul off in front of the house. I thought that was a beautiful thing, my son going out with a priest. We had no inkling about what was going on. I wish I did.
PAUL: And then one weekend, I remember, he took me away -- to go golfing, theoretically -- down to the Cape. I remember this motel that he took me to, and it was, like, overnight. And Mom and Dad just thought it was normal. They never would have imagined that this was going on. It just never would have entered their consciousness.
MOM: I thought he was a wonderful priest. Terrible, what they did to my son. I always thought he was very, very quiet, always very, very quiet, but I didn't think anything of it. Then when all that happened, then I came to. "That's why he was so quiet, the poor kid."
PAUL: I remember him saying, "Now, you don't tell anybody about this because this is between us and this is part of your penance and part of your counseling."
I still had my paper route back then, and I'd deliver papers and go over to the rectory, you know, get my counseling session and then go home and try and act like nothing happened. Of course, I'd be shaking and I'd be, like, you know, wanting to throw up.
When you're totally wrapped up with this environment of sin and guilt, you internalize it yourself. At least I did. I decided it was my fault. It was something the matter with me. What did this mean?
My whole attitude became to act like life was going as normally as possible. Mom would say, "Well, where were you?" I'd say, "Oh, I went over to the rectory to see Father Birmingham," and she thought that was normal. We were always hanging out there.
I convinced myself, as long as I didn't have an ejaculation, it wasn't even happening to me. He was ejaculating all over the place. I mean, he was--
He took me and three of my friends to the World's Fair. We stayed in a hotel in Manhattan. We were all in one room. And I remember there were two beds. He said, "OK, you two get in that bed and you two get in this bed," and then he got in between myself and whoever was on the other side of me.
In the middle of the night, he started to roll over to my side and reaching into my pajamas. And I thought, "You are not going to do this in front of my friends." I was able to, like, break out of the trance, I guess, because it was, like, now someone else is going to know about this. I remember at that moment in that hotel just pushing him aside, literally just pushing aside and getting as far to the edge of the bed as I could.
In my mind, that was the last time it happened. I remember sort of like drawing the line in my mind, "You are not going to do this anymore."
When I was 16, I got my license. I thought this was this incredible freedom. I could borrow Mom and Dad's car. I could get away. I could get beyond the radius of the parish.
It was kind of like I was in this cold war with him. I would still have to encounter him. He was asking me where I was applying to college. I really wanted to go to Columbia. Columbia is not a Catholic school. I remember Birmingham saying, "You got to go to a Catholic college because if you go to a non-Catholic college, you'll lose your faith." And I remember, like, laughing to myself, thinking, "Well, pal, because of you, I've already lost it. I don't know what you're talking about."
My college years, I don't even remember going to school. It was 1967. I remember driving up to Boston College. There was a lot of stuff going on in the world. It was still a little protected Catholic college world, but people were tuning in and dropping out. All hell was breaking loose. It was the "Summer of love" and Haight-Ashbury. I was growing my hair long, wearing crazy clothes, protesting the war. And I wasn't going to church.
[www.pbs.org: Paul's story -- a timeline]
So basically, everything I was doing was breaking away from that very tight, ordered, predictable life that we grew up with in our household. I think it was a combination of that cultural influence plus me getting away from all of that oppressive Catholic thing and me wanting to just say, "Screw it," you know, "I don't want to do any of that."
I was starting to see through the hypocrisy of it all. I remember coming home weekends and tell Mom and Dad I'm going to church. I'd drive around Salem for a couple of hours. I don't remember when they ever figured out I wasn't going to church anymore.
MOM: Father Birmingham, I went and told him that Paul had gone to college, and, "You know what, Father? He's not going to church anymore." He says to me, "So what?" And I didn't know at that time that he had molested my son, otherwise I would have never-- I probably would have gone up and killed him, maybe. [laughs]
DAD: With my temper, I think he would have been dead long ago.
PAUL: This whole thing put a filter over my relationship with my family, especially with my parents. Why did I stop going to church? Why did I stop acting the way they did? Since that was such an important part of their life, I think that they felt there was a huge gulf between us opening up.
I think there was a part of me that was just so angry that this had happened to me, angry with everybody who didn't stop it from happening, even though you're not giving them a chance to help you. I felt a little bit set up by the situation. Here I was, a product of this educational system and this religious system, taken advantage of by that system, and there was nobody there to protect me.
Between junior and senior year in college, I decided that I was going to be a conscientious objector. The war was going on in Vietnam. I wanted no part of it. You had to prove that you were a conscientious objector on religious grounds, and you had to get a letter from a priest that you were on the level.
Well, I really didn't know any other priests. I found out that he was at St. Michael's in Lowell, and I remember driving to Lowell one night with this letter in my hand. I rang the bell of the rectory. He came to the door. He kind of looked at me. He looked at me kind of almost like with disdain, and he signed it and handed it to me, and that was the last time I ever saw him.
I had a college degree, and I probably could have used my degree and made a career somewhere, but it never occurred to me to do that. I felt like I was outside of society, on some level. It wasn't totally conscious. I wasn't motivated. I was depressed. There was a part of me that felt there was something the matter with me, that I didn't deserve what other people deserved.
I went through a long string of jobs, none of which had anything to do with the preceding one. When I got out of college, my first job was working as an attendant nurse at Danvers State Hospital, the state mental institution. I worked as a lobsterman. That was the best job of my life, except that I had terminal seasickness. I took a job driving a cab, took a job driving a bread truck, ended up driving a milk truck, ended up stripping furniture. There was no clear pattern going on here.
I actually left the country and went to Italy for about four or five months. My whole trip over to Sicily turned into this trip to go find my grandfather. It was some weird way of finding my father, I guess, but--
When Birmingham was molesting me, I probably had more awe for the priest than I did for Dad at that time. Forgive me for saying this, Dad, you know, it's like I didn't know who you were. Birmingham stole the position of my father. Dad didn't have a role model for a father. He was brought up by his mother to think that his father was dead until he was about 7 years old, I think. He tells the story that one day he was outside playing baseball, and this older-looking guy shows up and says, "Do you know where Mrs. Cultrera lives?" And he says, "Yeah, she's my mother."
DAD: My mother telling me, "See that man with the white hair in front there? He's just come to see you." She says, "That's your father." I said, "What the hell is that?"
PAUL: So then he had a relationship with his dad for a few years, until his dad decided to go back to Sicily, and they never saw him again.
DAD: I've always been saying that, what if my children never understand me?
PAUL: When I think of growing up, Dad was a great father. He was working all the time. He worked in a leather factory. He was tired when he came home. Our aunts, Jenny and Kay, they were there in the house. They were unmarried and they had all this attention that they gave us, so it was very easy for Dad to kind of recede into the background there.
DAD: OK, they're taking care of my son and my kids, why should I worry? I worry about it now.
PAUL: I think Birmingham stepped in there at a time in my life where I was probably looking for some strong father figure, and he fit the bill. Father-- literally, he was the father figure because he was "Father." He replaced our fathers.
JOE: 1976. While my brother is still drifting around, trying to figure things out, I'm starting to mess around with this Super-8 camera I bought. Cousin Matt comes over in one costume after another, and the films get longer and crazier. Aunt Grace is the family saint but always up for a challenge. She teaches Sunday school, has the keys to the church, and is willing to let us in, as long as she has her say.
AUNT GRACE: Of course, confession is the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, which means forgiveness and love. Jesus loves us very, very much, more than we can understand. And that is no baloney.
JOE: In my film school thesis, cousin Matt plays a priest, based on Father Laurano, the new pastor at St. Mary's Italian that everyone is complaining about.
MATT: [as Laurano] It's my parish, isn't it? I mean, what do they want from me?
JOE: At an Italian neighborhood reunion in 1983, I finally capture the real Laurano and his stunningly candid description of what a priest really is.
ANTHONY LAURANO: I'm a worker. I'm a serviceman. If somebody needs to have life given to them, I give them life. The man of God should not be accepted by a community. He should be revered. He should be feared. He should be listened to, you know? No father is ever accepted by the children. I'm a man set apart. I'm somebody different, you know, and when you're different, you got to watch out for them.
DAD: [looking at paintings with Joe] You know what this is?
CAMERAMAN: Those are your paintings?
DAD: All paintings.
DAD: Gloucester. Pretty good, huh?
PAUL: I think I moved to Gloucester in 1976 or late '75. Gloucester's a really great town and I felt very much at home there.
First time I saw Hartley, she was at the Blackburn Tavern. And I remember this waitress walking through this crowd. Some guy got in her way and she just spontaneously cussed him out in perfect Italian, and I thought, "Wow, that's pretty impressive. I wonder who this woman is?"
The St. Peter's Festival was going on in Gloucester. It's the blessing of the fishing fleet. It's basically about four days of wild partying all through the town. A lot of people come together and started partying and having a good old time, and Hartley and I just sort of hit it off there and just sort went off and became a couple.
We moved in together in the fall of '79. We decided to get married. Got married in '81.
It must have been about 1989, I was back at the house.
MOM: I don't know what else to tell you.
PAUL: I was standing over by the radiator in the kitchen, and I remember Ma saying, "Oh, you know, your friend Father Birmingham died."
MOM: I told him that. I didn't think anything of it. I said, you know, "Father Birmingham died."
PAUL: I outwardly didn't make a big deal of it, but inwardly, it was kind of, like, "Thank God he's dead."
MOM: I didn't think anything of it. How did I know what was going on?
PAUL: It was this sense of relief that he was dead and that my secret was going to be my secret, so--
There was the sexual abuse itself, and it does whatever it does to you. But the other damage, as important, is that it tosses you into this life of secrecy because you think there's something the matter with you. You think you've done something really bad. So you become very adept at drawing a huge circle around that part of your life, and then that kind of leaks out to other parts of your life. You create these elaborate defenses around yourself.
There's always been this part of me that's very open and wants to be very trusting, and at the same time, I end up pulling back from everything because it's, like, "Oh, wait a minute, what's behind the secret door," you know?
I started realizing I wasn't that happy with my life situation. I started talking to Hartley about it, but I wasn't really prepared to figure out what was going on. She was shocked when I sort of was saying that there were all these problems. And my way of dealing with the problem was to say, "OK, there's a problem, so I'm leaving."
We split up in 1990. A lot of people were totally shocked. People thought we were just, like, this totally happy couple. I thought we were, too. I mean, I never really doubted it that much until probably about three or four months before we split up.
There are parts of me that sort of shut down as a 14-year-old and didn't have a chance to, you know, mature. When things got difficult in our marriage and I wasn't confronting a lot of the truth about what was going on, I'd get defensive. I would get scared. I would think that, of course, I can't maintain this marriage because there's something the matter with me, and I wasn't going to let her really question me to find out what was really going on.
That's how I think this whole experience helped contribute to the demise of my marriage, but you know, it's a lot more complicated than that.
We split up in May. So I split from my wife, quit my job, and then decided I should just leave the state. So I left in the fall. I was offered a temporary consulting job out in Southern California, and that sounded like a good place to go.
I was horribly miserable at the time that I was doing this, but there was this sense of, you know, "OK, I'm going to get in my car and drive across the country in my Fiat."
There was a period of time where it was just really difficult for us to even talk to each other. Justifiably, she was having a really hard time dealing with the fact that her husband just kind of one day got up and left.
About a year or so later, I was back in Massachusetts. We decided we'd get together and go to dinner.
We were sitting in the car on Main Street in Gloucester. I remember it was foggy, it was kind of raining out. I remember the windows were all kind of fogged up in the car. And at one point, she just said, you know, "I've got to ask you something. Did something happen with that Boy Scout troop leader that you used to tell me about?"
I used to tell her stories about our Boy Scout troop leader. He was pretty crude, telling these lewd jokes and things. She said, "Did that Scoutmaster molest you?" And I remember looking straight ahead and thinking for about three seconds, "Here's my chance." I could say no, and she's never going to ask me this again. But I heard myself saying, "No, it wasn't him." Then she looked at me and I looked at her, and she said, "What do you mean it wasn't him?" I just said, "Well, it was this priest."
That was the first time I had told anybody, and that was in 1992, almost 30 years after it happened. She said, "All the time we were together, there was this thing that I couldn't get beyond. You obviously were pretty whacked out about the Catholic Church, but I just figured that's a normal reaction to the Catholic Church. But there was this part of you that was closed off. I always wanted to ask you, but never really had the courage to do it because you could shut me down pretty easily."
There's kind of this moat around me. There's only so much intimacy you could have with a person, and I was, you know, sort of unconsciously limiting that.
What really surprised me is how understanding she was. She didn't start screaming and yelling at me. She understood and she was sympathetic and said, "That's a horrible thing to have happened to you."
OK, I've just told this deep, dark secret to somebody. I feel actually better about it. The heavens didn't open, the ground didn't open, there was no earthquake. My life didn't end.
All those years when I lived in silence, I believed that I was the only one. And let me tell you, that was a very lonely feeling.
It's just been this gradual process of being able to talk about it. The world doesn't think that you're a freak because this happened to you, you know? It doesn't-- people don't turn against you. They actually usually support you.
We're driving through the streets of Sacramento on the way to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. I've been managing it for the past, oh, three, three and-a-half years, I guess. We've got about 160-something employees there. My job is to be general manager of the whole shooting match. Well, I've been doing this type of work since about 1980. It was this community organization, an alternative business structure. That's always what appealed to me.
LEE: When Paul and I first met, we were both co-op managers. We were colleagues. I lived in New Mexico at the time, and then Paul went out to California to work in a co-op. He ended up closing that co-op. And he came back, I offered him a place to stay to recover from, you know, not having a place to live.
We got biblical. Yeah, we got biblical. Two recovering Catholics.
There was some closed doors in our relationship, as there are in any relationship, but I knew that there was something else, something deeper. You know, I don't think that Paul and I ever really intended to live together forever or anything like that, but I knew that I wanted him to deal with whatever that was, whether it be with me or with someone else.
He told me what it was, but it was only after we had an argument about his Fiat. His Fiat brought up the issue because I criticized his Fiat, and you know, his Fiat was very dear to him.
PAUL: It was a typical Fiat. It kept falling apart all the time. I had so much of my identity and then pride wrapped up in this car after a while.
It does come with a Lady of Guadalupe gear shift knob.
LEE: Finally, one day, I said, "Why don't you just get a reliable car?" And Paul hit the roof. And then I realized he really overreacted to that. He told me then all about the Church. It was like I hit some core.
I remember just holding him for hours because I wanted to just make it all go away and protect him. I thought Paul had managed to keep his life very together despite such an incredible obstacle in his childhood. He's amazing. He's amazing that's he's so together for all of that.
All those Catholic ceremonies! Geesh!
PAUL: Lee and Hartley reacted as though they wanted to go on the offensive about it in some way or other.
LEE: I encouraged him to confront the Church.
PAUL: Going in, that was the first time I had walked into some Catholic office building in a long time. It felt an awful lot like walking into the rectory at St. James where I was abused. The whole environment was just too eerily reminiscent. It kind of has this power over you, makes you feel like this little kid again.
There was a nun sitting behind the desk. I was still internalizing all this shame and embarrassment. I didn't really want to walk in and talk to some nun and tell her that I was sexually abused. You know, I started to feel like a cold sweat, like I was going to throw up.
When I started telling her the story, she wasn't surprised. It wasn't like she was in shock. It was almost a routine. Her job was to process these claims, and it seemed like I wasn't the first one.
I said, "Back in the early '60s, I was at St. James School in Salem and I was molested by Joseph Birmingham." She clearly knew who I was talking about. She was just kind of, like, "Oh, Joseph Birmingham."
I said, "If you need this story to be corroborated, there were three other priests in the parish at the time. One of them was young. He was the same age as Joe Birmingham. His name is John McCormack." And she said, "John B. McCormack?" And I said, "Yeah. Yeah, it was John B. McCormack." She said, "Well, he's in the next room. He's my boss." And I said, "He's your boss?" And she said, "Yeah, he's in charge of these cases."
MARIA: My memory of him was he was the young, good-looking priest. One time we went on a ski trip. All the girls were, like, "Whoa! Look at this, and he's a priest," you know, and stuff like that. Always very friendly.
PAUL: There he was, and he looked very similar. And "Oh, Paul, I'm so sorry to hear about this. I remember you as a boy and I remember your parents. What we want you to do is find a psychiatrist, and we'll pay for some help for a while." And I said, "Whatever happened to Father Birmingham?" And he said, "Well, I don't know." And he said, "I know he died. You know, he died a few years ago." I said, "You don't know anything about him?" And he said, "Well, no, no. We never really kept in touch."
I knew they were really good friends at St. James. They used to take us to the movies together. They took us skiing together. I assumed that they probably stayed in touch. He said, "The only thing I know about him, in 1971," he said, "I was at Catholic Charities in Salem, and then I got a call from a parent of one of the boys at St. James. Their son had reported that Father Birmingham either had molested the son or had molested some other kids in the school. I called the pastor of St. James and reported it. He left St. James, and then I really didn't have anything more to do with him. I don't really know what happened to him. I just know he died a few years ago."
And he said, "I really hope that you're not going to be one of these people who's going to try and sue the Church over this because, you know, that's really not going to be productive, that's just going to make you more angry." He just kept saying, "The best thing to do is try to get some help, and we'll help you get the help, and then put this behind you."
I've had dreams about Birmingham for years. Back then, the dreams were that Birmingham was alive and he was sort of a threatening figure. I'd be walking with someone I knew and he would walk up and start talking to me, or even more frightening scenarios.
I called McCormack and I said to him, "I need to know for sure that he's dead. And you're back in Boston, I wonder if you could get me a copy of his death certificate so I could just have that physical proof." And he said, "Oh, no, I can't do that. But I can assure you that he's dead because I visited him in the hospital before he died and I went to his funeral."
"Wait a minute. When I met you two months ago, you said you had nothing to do with Birmingham after you guys left St. James."
That really made me think something's going on here and these guys aren't dealing straight. I want to get to the bottom of this.
JOE: 1994. The phone rings on a Sunday afternoon. My brother had something to tell me. I have something to tell him.
PRIEST: [fundraising video] And now I'm asking you to sacrifice once again--
JOE: In the previous three years, I had made three fundraising films for the Archdiocese of Newark that helped them raise over a hundred million dollars. And even after Paul reveals to me his whole history with Birmingham and his suspicions regard McCormack, I have another "Little Joe, good God" guilt moment. I mean, I'm actually happy to hear that Paul is only asking for therapy, that he doesn't want money from the church.
PRIEST: How much money do we need, and what exactly do we need that money for?
JOE: Because money's got nothing to do with it.
PRIEST: Well, we must raise $50 million.
JOE: It was just one bad priest, one parish. I jump on the Boston train to the Boston Public Library. I feel my heart skip as I scan the faces of this photo: St. John's Seminary, 1960. There's smiling Joe Birmingham and there's John B. McCormack. And this was just the beginning.
PAUL: Birmingham and McCormack graduated from St. John's Seminary the same year. Birmingham went to Sudbury, McCormack came to St. James in Salem, and then about four years later, Birmingham shows up in Salem. They're in the same parish together for a couple of years. Birmingham goes to St. Michael's in Lowell. He was in Brighton at St. Columbkille's. Then he went to St. Ann's in Gloucester.
St. Ann's was literally less than four blocks from where I was living. It would have shocked the hell out of me, I guess, if I had seen him.
It turned out that McCormack, he was in charge of personnel when Birmingham was sent to become pastor of St. Ann's. He wasn't just sent to Gloucester, he was made pastor. It stands to reason that the head of ministerial personnel had to be involved in making him a pastor, or at least knew about it, and didn't say to somebody, "You know, back in 1971, this guy was accused of molesting kids. He's been moving from parish to parish, and maybe we ought check and see what went on there."
It seemed clear that this organization was protecting him. There was nothing exceptional about Joe Birmingham, so there were probably a lot of other priests that were being treated the same way. The whole idea of getting a large sum of money from the archdiocese now started to sound like not such a bad idea. And it wasn't like I just wanted to get a bunch of money, I just want them to feel the hurt.
I ended up being connected to a lawyer named Matt McNamara. He advised me, "There is a statute of limitations. And the start date on it is when you first recognized that this happened to you and it had harmful effects upon you. So if you're going to do anything, we need to start acting now." On top of that, there's this statute of charitable immunities in Massachusetts. It says that the Catholic Church is a charitable institution. If you bring them to court, the maximum penalty that they could be assessed would be $20,000, unless you can prove that they were willingly and knowingly negligent.
The quest was to find out if there was somebody who reported him before he got to Salem, and then we would know they did nothing about it, sent him over to Salem, and I got molested there. I got the idea to put ads in the newspapers in each of the towns where Birmingham had been stationed.
LEE: We had my sister and her husband from Oregon pay with their credit cards so that it couldn't be traced back to Paul.
PAUL: It was just this little ad that said, "Do you remember Father Birmingham?"
LEE: Then we got the street address, thanks to you, in New York. Paul was convinced that we wouldn't hear from anybody.
JOE: December, 1994. Each day, I check the mailbox. Cold, metal, empty. I'm almost relieved. The next day, paper. Birmingham's first assignment, Sudbury. I wish Paul was here to do this.
Sudbury. "Yes, I do remember Father Birmingham. If your intent is as I suspect, I can probably be of assistance to you."
PAUL: It was so easy to uncover people that Birmingham had molested that I thought, "Man, this thing is huge."
Salem. "There are several of us St. James classmates from the mid-'60s who had close contact with Father B. Could you give us some information regarding what his renewed interest in the man who had a hand in our development during junior high?"
PAUL: Some of them wrote letters and said--
"I know Father B. What do YOU know about Father B?"
PAUL: "Are you looking for what I think you're looking for?"
Lowell. "Who are you? What would you like to know? I remember him very well. He's been dead about five years. Thank God."
PAUL: And then there was a guy in Gloucester:
Gloucester. "Yes, I do remember Father Joseph Birmingham. He would get me out of school to counsel me in St. Ann's rectory, his private quarters. Is this concerning what I think?"
PAUL: I knew this kid when he was a kid. I got in contact with a number of different people who then would turn me on to their friends.
Sudbury. "Father Birmingham did attempt to molest me on more than one occasion. The two incidents that I remember occurred in the rectory in, I believe, 1963. I remember the year based on the car he was driving at the time, a black 1963 Ford XL with red bucket seats. Once in the rectory, we went to his room, where he began to molest me. He was interrupted by another priest."
[www.pbs.org: Read the letters]
PAUL: If 30 years later, you can just uncover 20, 30, 40 people like that, how many more were there?
Sudbury was kind of like the gold mine. One of the first ones I remember was Steve Blanchette. I went out and I met him. He told me, "Yeah," you know, "I was molested. My brother was molested. My other brother was molested. My friends were molested." This was the first parish he was at. This was before he got to Salem. I said, "Well, what happened to Birmingham?" And he said, "Well, it was kind of a mystery. He just kind of disappeared one night. He was there and then he wasn't there anymore. We didn't know where he ended up."
I got in contact with a woman named Marie Korette, one of the mothers in Salem who finds out that her son may have been molested by a priest, gets together with four of five other mothers who have the courage to come in and confront these guys, these powerful figures, and was told by the bishop who was in charge that they were spreading scandal about a holy man, they should examine their consciences and go to confession and go back and be quiet about this.
The first time I talked to Mom and Dad about all of this, they were having their 50th wedding anniversary in January of '95. We had planned this big party for them, so I came out for it.
[anniversary celebration] I want to thank them for being really great parents. Neither of my parents are great preachers or teachers, but I've learned -- and I know Joe and Maria have learned -- a lot from them just by their example. They taught us how to practice love. They taught us how to love each other. And for that, you know, I'm eternally grateful.
They were real happy and it was a big moment in their life. The next morning, when I was sitting down, we were having coffee and I said, "You know, Mom and Dad, there's something I need to talk to you about. Do you remember Father Birmingham?"
MOM: I felt terrible about Paul. He had me crying that day when he came home to tell us. He was sitting in that chair, and he came home to tell us. You know how I felt?
DAD: I says, "Wait a while. Is he-- is he making up stories?" You know? For a while, I think I thought that it was, like, is he telling me something and"-- I just couldn't grasp the whole thing? No, I couldn't.
JOE: Well, maybe that's-- you think that's why he never told anybody, because he thought people wouldn't believe him?
DAD: Well, yeah. At that time, he was the only one. He thought he was the only one. And he probably figured, you know, "I can't shame my family," and stuff like that. And that's why he kept all that damn poison in him.
PAUL: I know they feel guilty. They feel embarrassed. They feel like they should have done something. Dad kept saying, "If I had known, I would have killed the guy." He probably would have. Mom said, "Well, you know, Sister Grace" -- the Sister Superior at St. James at the time -- "she's in Beverly, and maybe you and I should go over there and see what she knows about all of this." I said, "Yeah. Right on, Mom. Let's go," you know?
And I said, "Well, the reason I'm here is to talk about Father Birmingham." And Sister Grace's face kind of went white. She kind of looked at me, like, "Don't tell me it happened to you, too."
MOM: We could tell she knew something, but she couldn't say too much because, well--
PAUL: She basically said, "Yeah, something happened with Father Birmingham. We tried to report it."
MOM: She couldn't say nothing, but Paul had an idea she knew what it was all about.
PAUL: We put all of our findings together and we wrote a demand letter to the archdiocese. Matt McNamara, my lawyer, he had some information from inside the archdiocese that McCormack was about to be appointed bishop. You're not just indicting this priest, you're basically saying that McCormack was his friend who protected him, his friend who promoted him, and now the archdiocese is going to make this guy a bishop.
About two weeks later, we heard back from them. My lawyer said to me, "This is the fastest turnaround I've ever seen in one of these cases." They said that they wanted to have a meeting. I said that I wanted McCormack to be at the meeting.
I started laying it out to McCormack. I said, "When I went to you, you told me Birmingham disappeared out of your life back when you left St. James and you reported him. For about 10 years of his career, you were actually in charge of ministerial personnel."
And he started backtracking. He said, "Oh, no, no, no, Paul, you misunderstood me. I didn't say that I never knew anything about him. No, no. Of course I knew about him. We were priests and we were in the same archdiocese, but we weren't close. I had a role in the personnel decisions, but it wasn't all my decision. Basically, the cardinal appoints the pastors."
I just said, "Not only did he molest me, but he clearly molested hundreds of people. The Church basically moved him around from parish to parish. You were involved in it. You told me you wanted to help me. How do you think it helps me to lie to me about this? It would have been a lot more helpful for me if the first time, you just said, 'Look, I blew it. I didn't stop him when I was in St. James and I didn't stop him when I was in charge of him. We were friends.' "
And he said, "If we knew back then what we know now about the effects of sexual abuse on teenagers and young boys, then, you know, of course, we'd have acted differently. But we didn't know back then."
I said, "You left St. James and you went back to Boston College and got your master's in social work. You never studied or had an inkling that a priest having sex with an altar boy might have some effect on this kid?"
Day two, the mediator says, "The archdiocese wants to give you $20,000."
I said, "Isn't that strange that that's the maximum I could get if I went to court because of charitable immunities." He said, "Well, that's exactly it." And he said to me, "You've got a good job now, and you know, you're fairly well together and you're not an alcoholic or a drug addict. And you know, you're not a molester yourself, and you don't show all the symptoms of a lot of the things that, you know, some of these guys-- some of these guys have just gone off the deep end."
And I just listened to him for about 10 minutes going on about this, and at one point, I almost jumped across the table and just grabbed him by his throat. "You're telling me that because I've kind of held it together through some inner strength or just incredible powers of repression, I don't merit some treatment here? I'm talking about a lifetime of damage. Why do you think I should accept that?"
He kind of looked at me and said, "OK, OK, OK. I'm starting to see the damage."
And finally, he came back and said, "Sixty thousand. They're never going to go any higher than that." My lawyer said, "Paul, you're not dealing with a bunch of pious little saints. They've got the insurance claims figured out. They got their legal exposure figured out. To get $60,000 out of them is pretty remarkable. You keep pushing and you're going to drive yourself crazy."
My plan had been that I was going to get the money from them, and then I was going to go public because by then, I was really pissed off. But by the time I came out of that negotiating room, I just wanted to go back home, up to the desert in New Mexico, and just forget about it all. It was just too painful to go through again. I didn't want it to be my life cause. I wanted to be able to speak the truth about it, but when I got up in the morning, I didn't want that to be my defining issue of every day.
JOE: About a year later, John McCormack is ordained a bishop. And three years after that, Pope John Paul II appoints him bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire.
PAUL: In January of 2002, I was back for the holidays. Dad came in the room and he had a copy of The Boston Globe, and he threw it down on the table and he said, "This will make you sick." It was the first edition of The Globe where they broke the whole story. I looked at it and I said, "No, Dad, this doesn't make me sick, this makes me happy."
[www.pbs.org: Read the "Globe" series]
About eight years after I had gone through this thing with the archdiocese, now all the stories were coming out and I didn't have to stand alone when I was talking about this. And The Globe was relentless, at that point. They just kept digging up more and more stuff.
The courts forced the diocese to open up all of their files on all of these priests. The ad that we put in the newspaper, you know, "Do you remember Father Birmingham," that was in the files. The smoking gun that I was looking for, who reported Birmingham when Birmingham was at Our Lady of Fatima at Sudbury, it was there in the files. They told the parents in Sudbury they were going to hospitalize him in Salem. He was going to get treatment there and might actually become, like, the chaplain of the Salem hospital. So they sent him to Salem and they put him in charge of the altar boys.
When he was in Brighton, he was the chaplain to the juvenile court. In Gloucester, he was made pastor, the ultimate authority. They made it very clear that the archdiocese knew about him as early as 1964 and all the way through his career. The Boston Globe, back in I guess '92 or '93, had some information about Birmingham, and they tried to call Sister Grace Kenning.
She called the archdiocese and said, "What should I do?" In the files, Father John McCormack basically says, "Tell her not to say anything. Tell her not to go looking into the records. Tell her not to talk to The Globe."
DAD: You know, in my days, when a priest told you that tomorrow you're going to go to hell, you figure you accepted it, you know? It's a different item now for me about priests. They're nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.
PAUL: When Birmingham was molesting me, there was that sense I was going through some strange indoctrination, some ritual. Along with trying to get some sexual gratification, he was trying to change my life. He was trying to take me out of the realm of young boys who were going to have a normal sexual life. Because he had given that up, he was going to say, "OK, Paul, you don't get it, either. I'm going to put this darkness in your life."
JOE: December 2002. After publicly admitting he had placed sexually abusive priests in new assignments, and facing several lawsuits and parishioner rage over his handling of multiple cases, Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law is forced to resign.
[www.pbs.org: Resources for abuse survivors]
PAUL: Through the course of the year 2002, I made some contact with some of the people who formed the Survivors of Joe Birmingham. In January 2003, they had organized a meeting in Salem, where Bishop McCormack was going to come, talk to the group and answer their questions. At this point in my life, if there's one thing that's really stuck with me, made me feel real bitter, it was the way that McCormack treated my case, and now looking at these files, how he treated lots of them.
BERNIE McDAID: I might hang out over here tonight. I hope I can keep my voice together.
JOE: Has this been a process, getting to this point, to get him down here?
BERNIE McDAID: Lot of work. Most of these guys from this group we're in, they're going public and now getting therapy and meeting all these other guys and doing this while you supposedly work for a living, you know? It's amazing.
PAUL: These guys had this thing really well organized. There were well over 100 people who showed up. Family, old friends, Mom and Dad were there, and Hartley, my ex-wife, showed up. And then so-called Bishop John McCormack showed up and said how he never thought that his return to Salem would be under these circumstances. There must have been about seven or eight people who got up and just told their stories. It was incredibly moving.
Jamie Hogan said, "You know, I remember you coming over to our house for dinner all the time when I was a kid. What would you say to my father, if my father was here alive? How would you explain that you didn't do anything about this?" There was a woman who got up, the sister of a man in Lowell who had been abused by Birmingham and who had committed suicide.
I read this statement that I wrote. "I've flown across the country from Sacramento, California, the town where I now live, to Salem, the town where I was born and grew up, to ask John McCormack some questions. I hope you'll understand why I do not trust John as Father. My father is here in the audience, and John McCormack does not deserve to share that title with him."
[www.pbs.org: Read the full statement]
OFF-CAMERA QUESTION: How'd that make you feel?
DAD: I was pretty proud. "You're not fit to be called a father," he says, "There's my father, mother there." Remember that? Yeah. Yeah.
PAUL: "How can you say that you didn't know about this when one, two, three, four, five, six, here's the evidence? Why are you lying?"
I faced him. He was two feet away from me. He wouldn't even look at me. At the end of the meeting, he got up and made some lame statement about, "Well, I would like to answer your questions, but there are so many of them that there's not enough time tonight. You can individually come and talk to me if you want."
MOM: I can't talk.
OFF-CAMERA VOICE: Sure, after hearing that speech.
MOM: He didn't even make a speech. Nothing.
PAUL: We all felt good that we were able to get up and say what we needed to say, and disappointed in his reaction.
JOE: McCormack had prevented us from shooting the meeting. We caught him outside and asked if he'd learned anything.
Bishop JOHN McCORMACK: I learned what their lives are like because of what has happened to them.
JOE: So John was only now considering how the other half lived.
As for his pals, the class of 1960, 11 of them would turn out to be abusers or enablers. Probably the most familiar among them was Paul Shanley, a serial abuser, who addressed the initial gathering of NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association. McCormack covered for Shanley, and Birmingham, and other alumni and colleagues.
In 1985, John McCormack, Joe Birmingham, and three other priests from their class took a trip to Europe together in celebration of their 25th anniversary in the priesthood. This was some 10 years before he told my brother he knew nothing about Birmingham between the time he left Salem and the time he died, and that they certainly weren't close.
Two years after this European vacation, a parent of an altar boy from St. Ann's in Gloucester, who had heard rumors of Birmingham's previous misconduct, contacted McCormack about his concerns. McCormack told the parent that he spoke to Birmingham and that, quote, "He has assured me there is no factual basis to your concern. From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth and I believe he is speaking the truth in this matter."
PAUL: My work with John McCormack is over. He has no moral authority left. He's so clearly discredited by just the evidence sitting in his file.
JOE: Paul was done with McCormack, but I had to give him another chance. I was on the road when we finally connected.
[on the phone] So the reason I called you, this whole process for my brother has sort of become a process for me, too. And Paul went and got therapy for this, and my therapy is that I've been working my way through it by making a film about it. And it's a film about a family and how we're all trying to find our way through whatever this religion was to all of us.
I don't know if you would be interested in being part of it because you are part of it. You're a big part of it and a lot of people talk about you, and frankly, it's not very complimentary. I'm just offering you the opportunity because I don't want to go through this process and make a film, and then at the end, someone say, "Well, you know, it seems so one-sided. Why don't we hear anything from John McCormack?"
Why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you be believed? I don't understand that. I am giving you this opportunity and you're denying it.
I mean, I think what my brother's doing by doing this film is a lot harder than what you'd have to go through. I want you to know that I did ask you to do this, and that when this thing comes out and there's negative things about John McCormack in it, that you understand why they are not countered.
PAUL: Every once in a while, there's the little kid in me that says, "He shouldn't be bishop!" And then I kind of stand back and say, "Yeah, but it's just a big joke anyway."
What does it mean? What does the post of bishop in Catholic Church really mean? The organization has just been around a long time. It's built this incredible power and it's holding onto that power. It is more concerned with maintaining that power than it is with actually carrying out the mission that it says that it's all about. It's not the religion and it's not all the priests and it's not all the people who go to church, it's the guys at the top. It's the guys that protect the Birminghams and the Geoghans and all of these priests, the cardinals that promote the McCormacks.
Being the bishop basically means there's a good chance you're probably a rotten guy that has just climbed to the top of that corporate ladder. They're just a bunch of corrupt businessmen, and they're sitting on top of the evil empire.
I can read the Bible. I can read the Gospels and draw my own conclusions, and maybe I ought to get together with some friends and sit down and talk about Christianity and figure out how to lead my life, but I'm not going to take it from you just because you're dressed in black and you've got a collar on.
JOE: Back at the house, the family holds tight to old habits. Downstairs, my Aunt Kay, 99 years. Upstairs, my parents, still attending church. They still have their church, St. Mary's Italian, built by neighborhood hands, funded by neighborhood money. It is a refuge, free of scandal.
DAD: It was a comfort, after we found out what happened to Paul, that we had our own church. We found comfort in our own church.
JOE: But for good Catholics like my parents, even that comfort would soon be taken away.
TONY SALVO, St Mary's Parishioner: I have a copy of the letter from the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Most Reverend Richard G. Lennon. "After a thorough study of the situation of St. Mary Italian parish in the city of Salem, and having consulted the current administrator and parishioners of St. Mary's Italian Parish, a recommendation was made by the Most Reverend Francis X. Irwin that St. Mary Italian Parish will be suppressed."
ANNA DELLA MONICA, St. Mary's Organist: Every time I come in this church, I look and I can see everything that everybody did, all the names of all the people. I see my father's painting up there, and it made him live in that.
TONY SALVO: "The goods and obligations of St. Mary Italian Parish become the goods and obligations of the Archdiocese of Boston."
ANNA DELLA MONICA: We gave these gifts to God, and they're taking it! They're stealing the gifts. And to have this church being taken from us is a sin. It's a big sin.
PAUL: When I hear that they're going to close the church, part of me says, "Big deal." But when I look at the reality of what closing this particular church means to this particular community, it's just one more screwing that somebody's getting from the hierarchy. There are my parents, trying to deal with what happened to their son, and at the same time, the organization that did this to their son is ripping the one thing that's the most important thing in their life out of their lives. Their kid was abused and now they're getting abused.
Clearly, there's a connection between the millions of dollars that are being bled out of the Archdiocese of Boston to settle these cases and the fact that they're closing down churches like this that are debt-free and sitting on valuable pieces of real estate.
[www.pbs.org: Update on church closings/settlements]
JOE: January 2003. The last mass. A bishop stares me down. A priest tries to get me to stop, to throw me out. But he can't tell me or us to leave. It's not his to take. It's ours, our culture, our names below the statues, embedded in the stained glass. I stand my ground, start to feel the power shift. It makes him very sad.
And this local bishop, the one who closed it, Francis Irwin, one more member of the church's power elite that came out of that class of 1960. Two parishioners are supposed to give speeches, tributes to the history of Salem Italian Catholicism. Irwin decides against it, abruptly ends the ceremony before any unanointed local voice can be heard. Dad can't let this one pass.
DAD: Father, what happened to those last two speeches?
PRIEST: Bishop didn't want them.
DAD: Oh, come on!
He says, "The bishop didn't like the idea." I says, "Who the hell is the bishop?"
Oh, I mean it. I mean it! This is our church. We had a right to have one of our people speak.
DAD: No please. No please!
PRIEST: God bless you.
DAD: Then I apologized. I don't know why. I don't know what the hell made me apologize to the man, now that I think of it. The more I think of it, I don't know why. Oh, that's my bringing up in the Church, that's what it is.
PAUL: Initially, when I talked to Mom and Dad about this, they were supportive and they wanted to do something, but they would be defending the Church. You know, that actually pissed me off sometimes to think, you know, "How can-- after what I've told them about what happened to me, how can they still be going to church and giving money to these people?"
I was just being pretty self-centered. The Church was their life. Now that they know that sexual scandal has happened to so many people and they saw the reaction of the archdiocese, then having their church taken away from them, I think that my relationship with them has changed.
DAD: The reason we go to church, what you have to remember, it's been instilled in us since we were born.
MOM: Well, I was brought up that I believed in everything, but now things have changed. I go along with what's going on. I mean, it's wrong. I don't believe all these priests are doing wrong, but the ones who did it, are they getting punished?
MARIA: I still have my faith, and that's why I do go to church and that's how I express it. Is it the same? No. I lost my church. I lost my-- you know, my brother was-- I lost my brother, part of my brother, you know?
JOE: Paul and I are not going to go back to church.
DAD: I know that. I know that.
JOE: How do you feel about that?
DAD: Well, it hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
MOM: Did I ever say anything to you because you don't go to church?
MOM: Well, because it's your life. You do what you want.
DAD: I never interfered with your thinkings, did I? I never said, "No, you shouldn't do this, or you should have done," because I had no reason to doubt you. You ended up-- to me, you ended up wonderful children.
MOM: You figure whatever happened to Paul, you're holding that all against-- you're holding that against God.
JOE: No, that's not--
MOM: Well, you don't go to church.
JOE: I can see God without church.
MOM: Yeah, well, that's true, too.
DAD: What's the old saying? "God is everywhere."
JOE: I'm not going to go to hell now because--
MOM: Oh, no, you ain't going to hell. [laughs] I'll save a place up there for you.
JOE: A year after Cardinal Law was forced out of Boston, the Pope puts him in charge of one of the most important basilicas in Rome. Even Aunt Kay thinks this one crosses the line. She asks my brother to perform the sacramental right of removal, extracting Bernard Law from the holy hallway wall of popes and cardinals.
DAD: You got the old Pope hidden underneath there.
PAUL: There he goes
AUNT KAY: Did you get it? You get him?
PAUL: There he goes.
AUNT KAY: He's sitting in Rome, the big guy!
PAUL: Want to leave this one in there? He wasn't much better. Medeiros?
AUNT KAY: He's dead.
PAUL: A bum, too.
AUNT KAY: [ripping Cardinal Law picture] I'd like to send this to the Pope. I'd like to send it to the Pope and say, "Get that guy out of Rome. He don't belong in Rome."
PAUL: Yeah, he's the Pope's best friend.
JOE: [in front of St. James] So when's the last time you were here?
PAUL: Oh, a long time ago. I don't know. Funny, I almost feel like it would have more effect on me, but it doesn't. That was the room up there. Yeah, actually, I think it's the one that was in--
JOE: So I had spent two years piecing it together, first the hiding spots, then the specifics. So we went and we shot them, here and here and there and here. And here, some priest came out and told my cameraman to stop. We did. But then a very slow burn comes over me. I'm thinking, abuse, the cover-up, the pedophiles, the enablers, my brother, thousands of other survivors just like him, the million-dollar fundraisers I made for them. They take my parents' donations and then they take their church, and we can't take some simple shots outside a building?
DAD: I says, "Who the hell is the Bishop?"
JOE: Exactly. I'm not a sheep anymore. We continue.
PRIEST: [hand over camera lens] No, sir!
CAMERAMAN: Don't touch me!
PRIEST: I didn't! I put my hand up there.
CAMERAMAN: Well, he'll explain why we're here. He'll be happy to.
JOE: I'm doing a film here. I'm doing a film about my family and the Catholic Church and need some shots here. This building, it was 10 years ago, my brother came here and revealed his abuse. So if you have a problem with us shooting--
PRIEST: Well, sir, it is private property and--
JOE: I did 12 years of Catholic school.
PRIEST: That does not--
JOE: My family put so much money into this church.
PRIEST: No, no, that has nothing to do with it.
JOE: No that has nothing to do with it. It's always separate. It's always take, take, take.
PRIEST: Sir, if you think that you're going to make me feel bad about this, you're not.
JOE: No, I know you guys don't feel bad. You don't feel anything.
We didn't know who this priest was until I showed the tape to my mom. She identified him, Bishop Richard Lennon, the man who had approved the closing of my parents' church, the man who had taken over from Cardinal Law, the supposed warm and gracious replacement.
PRIEST: It's all in your head, sir. You're a sad little man.
JOE: I think Lennon was right. He told me it's all in my head.
PAUL: It is all in your head. And they put it all in our heads. It's very difficult to break out and just laugh at them and walk away. As long as people are willing to kneel down and take the sacraments from these people and give them the power, then they probably deserve as much as they get. It's up to the people to basically finally say, "The game's over. You guys are not the ones who can preach to us."
PAUL: You know, the people they've hurt the most are still supporting them. I don't fault them for it. It's the way they were brought up. It still has meaning to them. But it feeds the beast. It's like you keep feeding this thing and they keep going on.
There are times when I think that Joe Birmingham was my best friend. Through all the crap that I went through with him, he actually showed me the other side. He showed me the dark side. And she showed me that these guys are full of crap.
JOE: So all this stuff, all of it, in some ways, this film has been making itself before I ever picked up the camera, layer upon layer. And I'm still trying to fit the pieces, the bread into the blood, the wine into the sauce.
I want the magic to be real. I want to believe the impossible. But it's all too human. I'm flustered by the flutter of Holy Ghost wings. Aunt Grace whispers in my ear tales of immaculate conceptions, sorrowful and joyful mysteries. How can anyone deny Aunt Grace? She tells me about Jesus entering the temple, overturning the tables of the money changes.
And I can't help asking myself, "What would Jesus do today about these men who built their powerful corporate structure atop his lessons? What would he say about their betrayals, selfishness, the shocking arrogance that the priest Laurano had demonstrated to me those many years ago."
ANTHONY LAURANO: I'm a man set apart. I'm somebody different, you know? And when you're different, you got to watch out for them.
[Anthony Laurano was indicted on two counts of child rape on April 1, 2005.]
POPE BENEDICT XVI: I trust myself to your prayers.
DAD: And there you have it!
HAND OF GOD
Writer, Director, Editor
Director of Photography
Co-Editor, Location Sound
Post Production Sound
Sound Effects Editor
Audio Mix Facility
Additional Sound Mix
John J Burns Library, Boston College
AP/Wide World Photos
Salem Evening News
Manchester Union Leader
Wah Shing Lee
Mary Beth Bainbridge
Anna Della Monica
Anne Barret Doyle
Bananas of Gloucester, MA
Abby & Brian Rose Macnamee
The Parishoners & Choir of St Mary's Italian Church, Salem
The Aunts, Uncles & Cousins
"Why do I Cry"
Written by Barry Tashian
Perfomed by The Remains
Courtesy Barry Boy songs, BMI
"Mary is Alone"
Written by John Tata
Perfomed by Dry Ice
Courtesy of Arf! Arf! Records
"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
Written and Performed
by Bob Dylan
Published by Special Rider Music
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By Arrangement with
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
LEGAL SERVICES AND MUSIC CLEARANCES
Noel L. Silverman, Esq.
MUSIC COORDINATOR AND CLEARANCES
Robert Rosenblatt, Esq.
Supported by the Jerome Foundation
In celebration of
the Jerome Hill Centennial
and in recognition of
the valuable cultural
contributions of artists to society.
This project fiscally sponsored
by Film/Video Arts, NY, NY
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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you can watch the full program again on line, read Paul Cultrera's full statement to Bishop McCormack, explore a timeline, background on the making of the film, and updates on the clergy abuse scandal and the priests and church officials featured in this story, and then join the discussion at PBS.org.
Next time on FRONTLINE:
WOMAN IN TRAILER: Meth has destroyed this community.
ANNOUNCER: Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug--
Dpty. BRET KING, Multnomah County Sheriff: She looked 20 years older than she was.
ANNOUNCER: --made from a highly profitable pharmaceutical.
STEVE SUO, Reporter, The Oregonian: Cold medicine's a $3 billion money maker.
ANNOUNCER: Was this epidemic preventable?
Rep. BRIAN BAIRD, (D) Washington: Back home, it was tearing lives apart. Here in Congress, it was as if there was no problem at all.
ANNOUNCER: The Meth Epidemic next time on FRONTLINE.
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