Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens

Sep 3, 2018
Originally published on September 4, 2018 8:34 am

When Ray Santori was 10, his mother died. His father had died the year before, so an aunt and uncle near Pittsburgh took him in.

Not long after that at Saint Bernadette Church in Monroeville, Pa., Santori met Father William Yockey, who according to the recent grand jury report, sexually assaulted him for about two years.

"I felt that, I mean, I sometimes couldn't look people in the eye because they would know," says Santori. "I felt that everybody knew that I was sexually abused."

Santori says he started drinking and using drugs. He left the house before finishing high school. Since then, he's been homeless and incarcerated for a time.

"The sexual abuse drove me into such a dark place that it was hard to get a grip on responsibly, reality, work, you know, saving money," he says.

Today, Santori says he's 26 months sober and makes a decent living as a carpenter. But economically, the 53-year-old is not in good shape. During more than three decades of addiction, Santori estimates he's spent up to $2 million on drugs and alcohol.

"I know this. I'll probably have to work until the day I die," he says.

Being sexually abused as a child can shape someone's entire life, including their health, relationships, spirituality and finances. The loss of income can be enormous.

Yet, of the more than 1,000 victims documented in the Pennsylvania grand jury report on Catholic clergy sex abuse, just a handful can bring civil lawsuits which could lead to financial restitution. The statute of limitations expires when a victim turns 30.

Quantifying economic loss

Health economist Derek Brown at Washington University in St. Louis researches the effects of child maltreatment. This spring he published a paper on the lifetime financial burden of child sex abuse.

"We can compare it to say, cost of disease, you know, to other types of injury or illness," he says.

Brown factored in things like medical care and quality of life. Per individual, this loss averages more than $80,000, and that's not including loss of income. All told, he calculated the financial effects can average more than $300,000.

"You have a modest impact of a few thousand dollars a year for earnings, but that accumulates over the life cycle," says Brown, "you have 40-plus years of those impacts for a victim."

Survivors of sex abuse often develop depression and anxiety, which affects their performance at work or school.

"There are reminders all around," says Tom Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, who studies clergy sex abuse. "Maybe you drive by a church or you're watching a movie and a priest shows up in the movie, or you're asked to attend a wedding or a funeral."

Abuse and workplace performance

After being abused by these powerful figures, victims can develop issues with hierarchy. Career-wise this is problematic.

"They may have trouble or issues with the boss at work because it's hard for them to potentially trust those who have authority and power," says Plante, who also provides talk therapy to clergy abuse victims.

Sexual assault of any kind is traumatizing. But both experts and victims say offenders in the church are often seen as god-like leaders whom no one questions.

"Priests go to mass every day and create miracles...they have the ability to take away all your sins," explains Boston-based therapist Ann Hagan Webb. She specializes treating people who, like her, are survivors of clergy sex abuse.

Webb, also a former member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says many of her patients find authority so triggering they end up jumping from job to job.

"When I think about the people who are successful, they're the ones that are relatively independent in their jobs," she says. "I've worked for myself for 35 years."

Still, it's hard to always draw a clear connection between abuse and a lifetime of financial problems, since perpetrators tend to target kids, like Ray Santori, who were already troubled. Santori isn't positive the abuse led to him blowing millions of dollars on drugs and alcohol.

"But I definitely look back and am disheartened by how quick the time passed, and how far behind the game I am," he says.

At this point, Santori says there's nothing he can do, but keep moving forward.

Copyright 2018 90.5 WESA. To see more, visit 90.5 WESA.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Being a victim of child sexual abuse can affect a person's entire life from health and relationships to spirituality. And the loss of income can be enormous. We're going to consider those long-term monetary costs by looking at the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. There are more than a thousand victims documented in that report, but just a handful can even bring civil lawsuits which might lead to financial restitution. Sarah Boden of member station WESA has the story.

SARAH BODEN, BYLINE: When Ray Santori was 10, his mother died. His father had died the year before, so an aunt and uncle near Pittsburgh took him in. At St. Bernadette's church in Monroeville, Pa., Santori met Father William Yockey, who according to the grand jury report sexually assaulted him for about two years.

RAY SANTORI: I mean, I sometimes couldn't look people in the eye because they would know.

BODEN: Santori started drinking, using drugs, ended up leaving the house before finishing high school. He's been homeless, incarcerated.

SANTORI: I felt that everybody knew that I was sexually abused.

BODEN: Today Santori says he's 26 months sober and makes a decent living as a carpenter. But economically, the 53-year-old is not in good shape.

SANTORI: The sexual abuse drove me into such a dark place that it was hard to get a grip on responsibility, reality, you know, saving money.

BODEN: During more than three decades of addiction, Santori estimates he spent up to $2 million on drugs and alcohol.

SANTORI: I know this. I'll probably have to work till the day I die.

BODEN: Many survivors of clergy sex abuse struggle financially. Health economist Derek Brown at George Washington University in St. Louis (ph) specializes in studying the effects of child maltreatment. This spring, he published research on the lifetime financial burden of child sex abuse.

DEREK BROWN: We can compare it to, say, costs of disease, you know, to other kinds of injury or illness.

BODEN: Brown factored in things like medical care and quality of life. Per individual, this loss averages more than $80,000, and that's not including loss of income. All told, the financial effects can average more than $300,000.

BROWN: If you have a modest impact of a few thousand dollars a year in earnings but that accumulates over the life cycle, you have 40-plus years of those impacts for a victim.

BODEN: Survivors of sex abuse often develop depression and anxiety, which affects their performance at work or school.

TOM PLANTE: And then there's reminders all around us.

BODEN: Psychologist Tom Plante at Santa Clara University researches clergy sexual assault.

PLANTE: Maybe you drive by a church or you see a - you're watching a movie, and all of a sudden a priest shows up in the movie. Or you are asked to attend a wedding or a funeral.

BODEN: Plante says while sexual assault of any kind is traumatizing, with clergy offenders they're often seen as these godlike leaders whom no one questions. As a result, he says, many victims develop issues with hierarchy, which career-wise is problematic.

PLANTE: They may have troubles or issues with, you know, the boss at work because it's hard for them to potentially trust those who have authority and power.

BODEN: Plante says it's hard to always draw a clear connection since perpetrators tend to target kids like Ray Santori who are already troubled. And Santori isn't positive the abuse led him to blowing millions of dollars on drugs and alcohol.

SANTORI: But I definitely look back and am disheartened by how quick the time passed and how far behind the game I am.

BODEN: At this point, Santori says there's nothing he can do but keep moving forward. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Boden in Pittsburgh.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that Derek Brown is at George Washington University in St. Louis. The correct name is Washington University.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.