An Abuse Survivor’s Tale

churchPeter Marghella, a US Navy medical officer, recalls sitting in his tent in the sweltering heat of Bahrain during the Gulf War, unable to cope with the increasing panic attacks that came over him like tidal waves:

I took out the pistol and I cocked it and I put it in my mouth. I was literally just about to pull the trigger when the command surgeon, who was in the room next to me, divided by a partition so he couldn’t see me, just started talking to me. I can’t remember what it was. It was just kind of innocuous banter. He talked with this kind of South Carolina drawl. And I just started to concentrate on what he was saying and I took the gun out of my mouth.

Marghella is a childhood victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest who also served as chaplain of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting from 1973 to 1975.  He was sexually assaulted by Kenneth F. O’Connell, priest of the Archdiocese of New York and pastor of Saints John and Paul Church in Larchmont.  O’Connell also served as chaplain for Boy Scout Troop 21, Marghella’s troop, which was based at Sacred Heart Church in Mount Vernon.

Marghella attended Camp Spes Mundi in Hope Falls in 1973 when he was 12 years old. O’Connell suggested Marghella stay with him after Marghella aggravated a prior injury in a camp activity, away from the other campers, so O’Connell could keep an eye on him throughout the night.

“Sometime in middle of the night, I woke up and O’Connell had crawled into bed with me naked and sodomized me,” Marghella said. “I went in and out of consciousness from the pain. He never said a word the whole time. It was brutal.”

This January, approximately 44 years later, the Archdiocese of New York reached out to Marghella and offered him a settlement as part of its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The program, created by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, pays people who were abused by clergy when they were kids.

Marghella accepted the settlement but remains haunted by the abuse and the lack of accountability in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Attempting suicide twice, he has managed to control his anger and channel it, although the despair and anger remain. “The church has never apologized,” he said.

In spite of ongoing anxiety attacks, Marghella is a highly decorated Naval officer who for 20 years oversaw planning for different types of medical catastrophes. In that position, he wrote the national small pox response plan and was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Shortly after 9/11, he sought to bring a lawsuit against the Archdiocese but was unsuccessful because New York State has a very restrictive statute of limitations.

Peter Marghella is one of countless survivors of priest and Boy Scout sexual abuse.  Many of the perpetrators have never been held accountable, nor have the organizations accepted responsibility for the wrongful acts of their agents or for their own wrongdoing in allowing the abuse to happen. For many of these courageous survivors, justice and healing remain elusive.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states.

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