Sisters who were sexually abused by the same priest are sharing their story publicly as multiple states mount investigations into the Catholic Church.
CBS News interviewed four of the five siblings who were victimized. The Pennsylvania sisters – Patty, Lara, Teresa and Carolyn – said the abuse started in the early 1980s when the girls ranged in age from 13 years old to younger than 2 years old.
“I didn’t realize it until I was 12,” said Carolyn, the youngest. “I was watching a movie of a priest molesting altar boys and that’s kind of the day that I put it together.”
The girls say they were victimized by Enhaut, Pennsylvania, priest Augustine Giella. At the time, he had the trust of the family and was like a grandfather to the girls. He would pray with them at family meals.
Giella also plied the girls with material objects such as candy, clothes and toys, Teresa said. But the gifts were not unconditional. Patty was 13 years old when Giella molested her while the younger girls watched.
“He was constantly hugging me in front of them, kissing me in front of them, trying to put his tongue in your mouth. He needed to know my cup size. I would continually remind myself, ‘He’s my priest. He’s the mediator between God and man. This is okay,'” Patty said.
Sister Laura added, “I mean, even at our kitchen table things happened in front of my parents’ face that they couldn’t see.”
In 1989, Giella retired from priesthood but the family still kept in contact with him. Then a box was found with pornography in it: nude pictures of Carolyn.
"Over the next five years, the diocese took no action to remove [Father Augustine] Giella from ministry, chose not to inform law enforcement, the family, or parishioners…" said @PAAttorneyGen @fox43 https://t.co/J5CMQB0Ccy
— Grace Griffaton (@GraceGriffaton) August 15, 2018
Their parents reported the images to the Harrisburg diocese and one of the sisters contacted child protective services. That’s when police got involved and arrested Giella, who was subsequently charged with child pornography and sexual assault.
He died while awaiting trial.
For the parents, the revelations left them bewildered and searching for answers.
“Can you honestly think that if we knew, we would let something like that happen to our babies?” mother Patty said.
The family sued the church – twice – and settled the cases. The sisters said they didn’t understand the abuse or its implications as kids and so they never talked about it.
“For a long time, we just – we – it’s not that we weren’t close. We just didn’t know each other,” Carolyn said. “There’s always this big elephant in the room when we were together – because we – you know, there was so much going on that we didn’t want to talk about it.”
It wasn’t until three years ago when the sisters began sharing their stories with each other. They’ve decided to go public to help others who also have been victimized.
“We knew that we needed to do more to help prevent this from happening to other people,” Carolyn said.
Her sister, Teresa, added: “I believe that there’s going to be change. I pray that there’s going to be change because nobody should live like this with this pain. Nobody should. It’s every day. But I have hope now. I do.”
While the bishop of the Harrisburg diocese expressed regret to the family in a comment to CBS News, the sisters said the Catholic Church has never directly apologized to them. The bishop has ordered the names of those accused of sex abuse and anyone who may have facilitated or covered it up be removed from buildings “and other places of honor.”
The diocese also is taking steps to conduct background checks and “rigorous training on the issue of child sexual abuse.”
The actions come after a Pennsylvania grand jury released a devastating report last month that alleged more than 300 priests and sexually abused upwards of 1,000 children.
Authorities in other states have launched investigations in the wake of the report, including New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Missouri.
To report priest abuse in Pennsylvania, call 1-888-538-8541.
[Feature Photo: Pixabay]