Sunday, January 10, 2016

'It could have been any one of us'

A shorter version of this ran on the op-ed pages of the January 10, 2016, Providence Journal.

Watching Spotlight, the Oscar-bound movie about The Boston Globe’s investigation of Massachusetts clergy who raped children, and reading about employees of St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, who sexually abused students has prompted memories of my 1960s and ‘70s childhood.

Only luck, I have concluded, spared me and my friends the fate of these many victims here in New England and others like them across America.

Back then, we were youngsters in a world where authority was accepted without question, and where certain authorities with sanctioned access to children – clergy, teachers, coaches and scout leaders among them – were almost god-like in stature. In the case of priests, they may as well have been God, at least in the view of adults like my mother, a daughter of Irish immigrants who was born and raised in Boston and who brought up her children with the Baltimore Catechism. You won’t find a hint that clergy could be anything but pure in that book.

It was a world of blind obedience and absolute trust of elders. And it was a world where monsters cloaked in authority roamed free, although no grownup warned us of that.

A resident of Wakefield, Mass., a suburb of Boston, from birth until college, I spent eight years at Saint Joseph parochial school and was an altar boy during much of that time at the parish church, which was under the control of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The priests I knew best at St. Joseph were good stewards, and one remained an acquaintance for decades. But another, William F. Maloney, who I saw only at Mass, was later publicly accused of sexually abusing someone in the late ‘60s at another parish in North Reading, four miles from my home.

A ten-minute drive would have brought me to another church, St. Patrick’s in neighboring Stoneham, where my parents could just as easily have settled when buying their first house outside the city. I would have been an altar boy there -- with Bryan Schultz, who was repeatedly and grotesquely abused by Paul R. Shanley, one of the worst serial pedophile priests, assigned to St. Patrick’s for seven years in the 1960s. Father James R. Porter, another monster, was briefly with Shanley at the Stoneham parish in 1967.

As the investigative reporter played by Mark Ruffalo declares in Spotlight: “It could have been you! It could have been me! It could have been any one of us!”

We did not need religion to be near an apparent molester. A local journalist who regularly visited schools, the YMCA, youth athletics and other places was said to have a creepy interest in boys, touching them inappropriately and sneaking into their tents after nightfall on scouting trips. Neither I nor my close friends were scouts, but we heard these stories so frequently we held them to be true. We never told an adult, for who would have believed a kid with such a story?

In eighth grade, I won a scholarship to St. John’s Prep, in Danvers, Mass., an all-boys school run the the Xaverian Brothers where I would receive a superb education. I remember meeting with headmaster Brother Ricardo before I enrolled; he wanted to personally share his delight at my good fortune with me and my parents. He seemed a warm, charming man who was devoted to God and the well-being of children. And that remained my perception during my years at St. John’s.

I was a day student, and thus never saw Brother Ricardo outside the classroom context. But boarders did. They saw also another brother who lived among them in one dorm – and they told stories of him inviting them to his room for illicit cigarettes and requests to shower naked with him in his private bathroom. To my knowledge, this man was never formally accused of sexually abusing a student. But Brother Ricardo, whose given name was Richard Kerressey, was.

In 1994, a former student accused Kerressey of sodomizing him in the school infirmary in 1966, after the headmaster had brought him back to campus following hospital treatment for injuries sustained when another student bullied and beat him. After the rape, according to the former student, Kerressey threatened to keep him, a senior, from graduating if he told anyone. The grown man claimed his life had been ruined, with suffering from “…depression, affective disorder, rage attacks, sleep apnea… attention/concentration deficit… is unable to hold a job or even at this point work… has a poor self-image, and has been through three divorces,” according to a Sept. 22, 1994, letter by the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, which represented victims of Porter and Shanley.

From the 1969 St. John's Prep yearbook

Did Kerressey have more victims? The letter, available on, states: “Mr. [redacted] informs us that it was well known among the students at St. John’s that Br. Ricardo favored certain people. Br. Ricardo’s favoritism was based upon the student’s availability to be sexually abused by Br. Ricardo. If one succumbed to Br. Ricardo’s abuses, one was more successful at St. John’s.”

I look very differently now at Brother Ricardo’s smiling face in my Prep yearbooks.

As with other cases, we likely will never know the full truth, since some of an abuser’s victims take their secrets with them to the grave. Indeed, it is possible that some of my childhood friends and classmates were abused but have never disclosed it. If so, I hope they, together with all victims, can find peace in their later years, and if their healing involves reporting long-ago abuse to law enforcement, I encourage them to do so. It is never too late.

The record is unclear on what action, if any, was taken against Kerressey, who left St. John’s in 1971 after my junior year and died 26 years later. To its credit, St. John’s in a more recent time moved responsibly against another brother and a priest chaplain who were accused of abusing students. And the Archdiocese of Boston -- headed now by a holy man, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who succeeded the unholy and unrepentant Cardinal Bernard Law, in charge when many of the more than 800 known victims allege they were abused -- has apologized, paid damages, sought justice and enacted real protections.

We say this must never happen again. One way toward that goal is never forgetting what happened, and what didn’t. Luck is not enough to protect children.

POSTSCRIPT: In August 2018, Xaverian Brother Robert Flaherty was placed on indefinite administrative leave from St. John's after allegations he abused a child in Baltimore years ago. This follows the release of the grand jury report showing the horrific abuse in Pennsylvania of more than 1,000 victims by more than 300 priests and the church-wide cover up for decades.

Providence Journal staff writer and author G. Wayne Miller graduated from St. John’s Prep in 1972 and Harvard College in 1976. 

Read Horror at St. Georges, a Providence journal editorial on the unfolding scandal at that school.


  1. I thought Father Maloney left the priesthood, married, and had a bunch of kids sometime after the mid-1960s.

  2. He did leave the priesthood, but I have no further knowledge of him.