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CNN anchor: 'I was abused by a priest'

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Yet another sad, enraging tale of abuse.

CNN Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts, who came out publicly at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association convention last year (my post here), is featured in CNN’s Behind the Scenes series, tells a first-hand account of his abuse at the age of 14 by highly regarded — and trusted — priest at his all boys Catholic school.

My abuser was Father Jeff Toohey, a trusted man of God. He was the equivalent of a religious celebrity in my private all-boys Catholic school in Baltimore, Maryland. Father Jeff was every boy’s friend and mentor. I considered him my mentor as well.

When my parents divorced, I was sent to Father Jeff to help me cope with all the changes. Divorce in the mid-1980s still seemed so foreign. Plus, I was just a kid, and I didn’t know much about divorce. I just knew it sucked.

All I had at that time in my life was my family and school. Those were my constants. But as my family fell apart, so did my life at school. After the abuse began, high school became a prison of shame and lies.

I felt trapped. My parents would be horrified to know their failure at marriage put their son at risk to be sexually abused and that the man abusing me was the high school chaplain and beloved priest.

It would get much darker before Roberts could see the light. He attempted suicide after suffering at the hands of his abuser.

My sister, Patsy, came home and found me. It was the day before her 18th birthday. She saved my life that day just by merely coming to my room to say, “Hi.” She saw the pill bottle and went to get ipecac, which made me throw up.

My parents were terribly upset by my actions. Father Jeff was told I tried to kill myself. All agreed I just needed more counseling. Father Jeff’s exact words were, “You have so much to live for.” I felt so cornered, and I had nowhere to go and no one to run to. I just became numb to the abuse.

Eventually, another boy came forward to report being abused by “Father Jeff” to the archdiocese, and the priest was sentenced to five years in prison (and served only 10 months).

Roberts told his story to Anderson Cooper in the hopes that this story could help others gain strength to stop abusers like “Father Jeff” from preying on innocent young people. Kudos to Roberts for putting himself out there; it had to be difficult.

There is video here.

AfterElton also has an excellent article on Roberts, Life as an Openly Gay Journalist.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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