Sex abuse divides, unites best friends
By GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Writer
Saturday, Jul 28, 2007
They were best friends, the kind who shared everything but their darkest secret: sexual abuse at the hands of the same Roman Catholic priest.
Twenty years later, their abuse is no longer hidden. The three boyhood friends will each receive $1.5 million from a $660 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and abuse victims.
Yet that money will never undo the guilt that comes with silence. It will never replace the innocence the three teens shared before a new and terrible bond brought them even closer together.
The stories of Troy Gray, Jim O'Brien and Mike Moylan are hardly unique, but together they give voice to the untold numbers of clergy abuse victims who thought they suffered alone, only to learn years later that those closest to them — sisters, brothers, friends and classmates — hid the same secret.
The Associated Press does not normally identify victims of sexual abuse, but in this case the three men agreed to have their names released.
When the Rev. Kevin Barmasse first showed up at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Tucson in 1985, the kids loved him. Barmasse was "on loan" from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but he seemed to fit right into their world.
He was in his early 30s and kept his collar in his pocket. "Rev Kev," as they called him, listened to their music — he loved Air Supply — and drove a custom van with rotating bucket seats and curtains over the windows.
For Troy Gray, a 16-year-old guitar player, Barmasse's arrival seemed like a gift from God. The teen dreamed of being a priest one day; one of his favorite childhood games was reciting the Mass while dressed in vestments made from a bedsheet.
"It was like, 'Oh, great, this is cool. God's going to bless us here because we're in with the priest,'" Gray recalled. "He was young, he was really cool and really hip."
Then, the trips — and the abuse — started: weekends at Disneyland, endless summer days at a Southern California beach house, retreats in desert resort hotels. The molestation, Gray rationalized, was a small price to pay for a father figure to replace his own drunken dad.
"A lot of people ask, 'Troy, why didn't you throw him out the window? You're Joe Jock, star football player and track star,'" Gray said. "People just don't understand what religion can do to you."
Jim O'Brien remembers the "night prayers," long confessionals alone with Barmasse.
O'Brien knew other teens, including Gray and Moylan, recited night prayers with Barmasse, too, sometimes disappearing for hours. But the teen was sure they were just praying — the priest couldn't possibly be doing to them what he did to him.
"We were all best friends, but we never talked about any of our stories. We all went on little trips with him all the time," he said. "We had no clue."
At 18, after months of abuse, O'Brien abruptly stopped going to church — but he never told anyone why, not even his best friends. He was terrified the other boys would tease him, that he would lose his popularity. He agonized that the abuse meant he was gay.
"I wish I would have said something. I don't know if I was the first one, I don't know if I was the last," he said. "I didn't want to have anyone look at me in a different way."
Mike Moylan was younger. He moved to Tucson in 1987, just as his parents were going through a bitter separation. He found solace at church, with Father Kevin and his nucleus of cool, older boys.
Moylan was thrilled to find himself singled out by Barmasse for special trips, just like the other boys: camping at Lake Powell, time at the Grand Canyon and Disneyland and visits to Barmasse's family in Los Angeles.
Moylan knew the other boys, especially O'Brien and Gray, also took special trips with Barmasse. He never dared to ask them what happened at night.
"The only thing we had ever asked each other was, 'Oh, are you getting the back rubs, too?'" Moylan said.
"We were teenage boys, it's not like you'd ever want to admit that a guy touched you."
A year after Gray graduated from high school, his mother told him that people at St. Elizabeth's were saying that Barmasse had hurt some boys. She asked her son to defend him.
Gray was stunned. He hadn't told anybody about Barmasse. If people were talking, it meant that he wasn't the only one.
Had Barmasse touched O'Brien? Had he abused Moylan? The thought made Gray sick.
That afternoon, Gray went to O'Brien's house and asked if anything had happened with the priest. Together, they sat on the porch for hours.
"I'm crying and saying, 'I'm sorry to do this to you. I need to know. I need to know,'" Gray recalls. "Finally, he broke down and he said, 'Yes, yes he did.' That's all I ever heard from Jim."
Next, Gray confronted Moylan and asked him the same thing, but the younger teen exploded and stormed out. Gray wouldn't talk to him again for 15 years.
A month later, Gray tried to hang himself.
In 2003, the Diocese of Tucson released a list of the names of priests who had credible claims of abuse against them. Barmasse's name was on it.
The diocese also acknowledged, in a separate letter on its Web site, that Barmasse had come to Tucson from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after police there dropped a sexual abuse investigation against him.
Gray, by then in his mid-30s, read about the list of priests in the local newspaper and called the reporter, who referred him to a lawyer. Attorney Lynne Cadigan asked Gray who else might have been abused and he started listing names. At the top were Jim O'Brien and Mike Moylan.
Cadigan paused: Moylan had sent her an e-mail that very same day. Gray promised he'd call O'Brien and give him her number.
Within days, the childhood friends were together again, this time sitting in Cadigan's office sharing the darkest secret of their lives.
"I was shocked," said Gray. "I thought I'd never see the day that these guys would be sitting in the same room with me again."
Since that day, the three have grown close again but they have never told each other the details of what happened with Barmasse. The guilt and shame, they say, is too overwhelming.
Gray, who believes he was the first of the three to be abused, agonizes over whether he could have protected his friends. O'Brien wonders the same thing about Moylan, who started hanging out with Barmasse just when O'Brien pulled away.
"To this day, I sit there and I still feel that guilt. When Mike talks about things that trigger him, I'm just like ... damn it. Why, why?" Gray said.
They are focusing on rebuilding their friendship. They talk frequently by phone and get together for dinner whenever Gray returns to Tucson from his new home in Colorado.
They all still bear the scars of Father Kevin, and of many victims of clergy abuse: alcoholism, depression, troubled relationships, sexual insecurity, trouble with authority.
Most of all, however, the three are overwhelmed with anger at the church that abandoned them — and, they feel, abandons them still. The settlement will never mean anything, they say, as long as Barmasse remains a free man.
"The priests are out there living their lives, they could be living right next door to you," Gray said. "It's finished for them, but it's not finished for me. It's something I'll live with for the rest of my life."
Now 55, Barmasse lives in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles, protected from prosecution by a statute of limitations that long ago expired. When reached by phone, he had no comment.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.