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Confessions and Lies 

A local sex-abuse victim reflects on the current crisis facing the Catholic Church

There was a time when Troy Gray wanted to be a priest. That ambition died in a cheap motel room off Interstate 10.

Troy Gray also wanted to be a musician—and he's now a professional guitarist, playing gigs all over town. That is a personal victory. After all, he could be dead. He has tried to kill himself more than once.

And the latest crisis engulfing the Catholic Church? It rings like a bell from his past.

Gray was barely a teenager when a young priest befriended him. Gray was the perfect target: troubled family, father either at work or drinking, heavily Catholic.

Father Kevin Barmasse was on "loan" from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where, according to Gray, there had already been an incident involving a young boy. But instead of removing Barmasse, the archdiocese dispatched him to Sierra Vista. "He abused more boys down there, and then they shipped him to Tucson," Gray says.

At Tucson's St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church, Barmasse led a youth group. "In Tucson, they let him loose," says Gray. "Even with the background he had of hurting other kids, they let him have full run of youth groups."

Barmasse's abuse of Gray unfolded over several years, as the priest slowly seduced him with gifts and attention. Finally, the attention evolved into full-scale sexual assault.

When the abuse crisis began hitting local headlines in 2002, the Tucson diocese—then headed by the late Bishop Manuel Moreno—agreed to a $14 million settlement with 10 victims. It released a list of one nun, two deacons and 30 priests alleged to be molesters. Barmasse topped that list.

Two years later, as the scandal mounted, the diocese filed for bankruptcy protection. It created a total settlement pool of $22.4 million. Ultimately, 54 claimants received between $15,000 and $600,000 each.

Soon after, Moreno's successor dispatched a column to newspapers pledging openness, and apologized for the long saga of abuse and the subsequent cover-up. "Who would have believed," wrote Bishop Gerald Kicanas, "leaders in the church could have failed to protect children?"

Now, in the midst of an international scandal that includes molestation of children in Germany, Ireland and Wisconsin—where hundreds of deaf children were violated by a single priest—many of the same questions have arisen: Why has this institution failed its most vulnerable members, time and again?

Frank Douglas runs a blog called Voice From the Desert (reform-network.net), devoted to supporting survivors of clergy sexual abuse. "I think what's happening in Germany and the other European nations," he says, "just shows that the policy of silence—which is a de facto policy of cover-up—exists throughout the whole Catholic Church.

"As far as the Tucson Diocese is concerned, I think Bishop Kicanas made a pretty good effort in cleaning up (things) here," Douglas says. "You have to remember that Bishop Kicanas is a very astute, highly political clergyman. After all, he didn't become the vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for nothing.

Kicanas was elected to the national position in November 2007. He did not return a phone call from the Tucson Weekly seeking comment.

Laurel Olson is a local member of Call to Action, a nationwide group pushing for reform in the Catholic church, such as opening the priesthood to women, and giving lay people a voice in choosing their bishops. Olson says the current crisis has grown so intense because the tradition of sexual abuse "really hasn't been dealt with."

She points out that one priest, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee named Father Roy Bourgeois, was excommunicated for advocating the ordination of women priests. "But I can't think of any bishops, or priests, for that matter, who have been excommunicated for either engaging in child (sexual) abuse or essentially facilitating it," she says.

"So until it's really addressed at the root cause—and somebody is assigned responsibility, and some heads roll—it isn't over, at least as far as I'm concerned."

Olson cites a retired Australian bishop who wrote a book detailing deep cultural problems within the church which only worsen the scandals. "He starts out saying that the church is in a prison of its own making. And the prison is thinking that they can't ever say they were wrong."

For years, Barmasse's predation left Troy Gray in a prison of his own. It helped destroy his marriage and turned him into a heavy drinker.

He remembers the last time he encountered Father Kevin, when the priest invited him to a hotel on the freeway for a two-person "friendship retreat."

"He disrobed me, and some things happened," says Gray. "And after that, I did everything in my power to stay away from him."

In the settlement—before the lawyers took their cut—Gray received $1.5 million from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and $300,000 from the Tucson Diocese. He says he got a "lot of crap" for taking that money from the church. Today, a chunk of it goes toward therapy.

"I lost the love of my life, my wife," he says. "I'm 41 now. I don't have children, and I don't think I ever will have children. I have a hard time with relationships, a hard time being intimate—even with all the therapy, I still have a long way to go. Money can't heal anything."

Barmasse was never charged with a crime. That leaves him free to molest other children. A phone call to a Westlake Village, Calif., number listed the name Kevin Barmasse was not returned.

"Here's the thing that gets me," Gray says. "He's still out there. He's not a priest anymore—he was removed from being a priest in the Catholic Church. But was he ever defrocked by the Vatican? I have no clue. They won't say anything. He's living out in California as a free man."

Ultimately, Gray blames the church brass for his ordeal. "They knew this stuff was going on a long time ago. This whole secrecy thing—Father Kevin shouldn't have been here in Tucson, because they knew about him."

And he tries not to follow the current scandal too closely, "because of what I went through. But I'm not surprised. I can sit here and say, 'It's about time.'"

Meanwhile, he predicts more of the same. "It's all about protecting their own, no matter what happens. That's what the Catholic Church has done—and let the kids suffer."

More by Tim Vanderpool

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