Karen and Celesta

Celesta and her sister, Karen, say they were molested as little girls. "He was a friend of my dad's and he married my mom's friend," Celesta says. "So we grew up with them and then he took advantage of the situation."

It was a secret the family kept for 25 years.

"There are families who keep these secrets, and relatives who keep these secrets, because they're afraid it will hurt someone's family and destroy the relationship and that's exactly what we've done," Karen says. "We've kept the silence to keep the relationship fine, and it's not fine."

Despite an alleged threat by the molester to kill their parents if they told anyone, Celesta and Karen exposed the family friend. They believed if they confided in their mother they would never have to see their molester again. But instead of going to the police, their mother, Ellen, struck a tragic deal with the man molesting her children. "I took the girls to a counselor. The counselor said, 'You know, really you have two choices,'" Ellen explains. "'You can have him arrested or you can see that he gets counseling,' which I thought I did. He didn't end up going continually to the counseling." Their own father, who knew what happened, remained close with the man, even continuing to bring the girls to the abuser's home.

After 25 years, Celesta, Karen and Ellen, finally took action. They decided to confront the man, captured in a documentary called Awful Normal.
Ellen, Karen and Celesta

With their mother, Ellen, Celesta and Karen demanded that their molester tell all the details of his sexual abuse.

"I feel like you betrayed me, you betrayed my family, you betrayed my father. I felt betrayed by my father," Celesta tells him. "And every time I see you, I feel like you don't care. You don't even remember. You don't know. You've never come to me and said you're sorry. And you know what? It's not okay. And I struggle with relationships and I fight to trust anyone. And I just feel like I need to give that back to you because I'm sick of being scared."

"What do you want me to do? I'll do anything," the molester responds. "I'll do anything you want me to do."

"I can remember like it was yesterday," he says. "It was like something that had happened to somebody else. Or somebody else was doing it. I don't…I don't know how to…I don't identify with that individual."

After the emotional confrontation, the abuser says, "Maybe together we can carry this burden together somehow."

Celesta responds, saying, "We can't. You carry your burden and you do your part. And I'm carrying my burden, and I swear I'm doing my part. I'm doing my part as fast as I can. It's good to know that I'm telling you and that you told me because then it's not my work anymore. It's your work. And I can go on with my life. Oh, God, I hope so."

Why did Celesta want to confront this painful period in her life? What did she hope to gain from it? "I wanted to break the bond. I mean, I say it even after we've done it, you know. I sat in there [thinking] 'Am I friends with him? What is that? Why did I sit and talk to him so long,'" she asks herself. "I felt a lot of shame that I was so nice to him. But the truth is there was a bond and I wanted to break it. I think that's why I had to go and confront him. I wanted to find out, why do I still feel that affection? That's absurd, but I do. And so I had to go meet him face to face and go, 'Okay, I know who you are now and I don't feel this way about you anymore.'"
Celesta and Oprah

"The whole country thinks that [sexual abuse of children] is about sex, and I keep saying that it isn't about sex," Oprah says. "The sex is the most minimal part of it. You know, whether there is sexual penetration or not sexual penetration, it doesn't matter. It's the secret. Anybody who holds a secret, I don't care what your secret is, if you keep a secret for a long time, or any amount of time, you begin to develop shame around the secret. And then what does that say about you as you're developing as a girl? Are you a bad girl? Are you one of those girls?"

"You're drawn into the secret," Celesta explains. "You know, for me it was the secret of 'If you don't tell your parents…' You know, 'You can't tell them or I'm going to kill them.' So here you've got this bond with someone and they've created a bond so you don't break it. And you're a little child and of course you don't want to be doing this thing and so you know that you're not supposed to and that it's bad and you can't control it."

Tony is a father of two, a devoted husband, and a man with a childhood secret that was tearing him up inside. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Tony and his seven siblings were raised Catholic. At just 14, Tony's faith was shaken to the core. The man Tony says was sexually molesting him was someone he trusted more than anyone else: his high school priest.

"I was asleep and then as I came to, [I] realized what was happening and just kept my eyes closed and waited for it to be done," Tony says. "By done, I mean done."

Despite those haunting memories Tony moved on with his life, became a firefighter and married the love of his life, Wendy. The couple have two children.

The former priest who Tony accuses of molesting him denies all allegations, and Tony settled out of court with the Archdiocese of Toledo, Ohio.
Wendy, Tony and Oprah

Tony tried to put the abuse behind him and move on with his life. He and Wendy eventually bought their dream home in a neighborhood they both loved. But a horrific twist of fate would bring his past rushing back.

Three days after the family moved into their new home, Tony found out his alleged molester was living on the same block, just five doors down.

"I was scared," Tony says. "For myself. For my children."

Tony discovered that his molester had left the priesthood in 1987, married and had children. He had been living in the neighborhood for six years.

"I had a nervous breakdown," Tony says. "As close as you could come to calling the guys with the white suits and taking you to the rubber room—that was me that day."

Shortly after he discovered that the man he claims was his childhood molester was living just down the street from him, Tony sat his daughter down and had the most heart-wrenching conversation of his life.

"You know how Mom and Dad tell you to cross your legs when you sit down?" Tony asks his daughter. "And don't let other people see your underwear, your privates and if somebody ever touches you there or whatever to tell a big person? Well, a long time ago, when Daddy was a little older than you are, somebody did that to Daddy. And today, the person who hurt Daddy a long time ago—Daddy saw that person. And he lives down the street and I don't know what that's going to mean but what I want to tell you is that Daddy's going to be okay. … I also don't want you talking to this person. Ever. If you fall down and scrape your knee on your bike and that person comes up to help you, you tell him to get away."

Today, the man Tony accused of molesting him no longer lives in Tony's neighborhood.
Wendy and Tony

Years later, Tony says he's coping with the damage that is still seeping into every area of his life. He says the sexual abuse he suffered as a teen was eating away at his physical and emotional relationship with his wife, and the couple turned to counseling for help.

The impact of the abuse on Tony's marriage has him fearing the worst.

"If she came home and said 'I just can't get by it, we're done,' I wouldn't blame her," Tony says. "[But] it would kill me. I believe I'd do just about anything to hang onto my children and my wife."

Wendy says at one point, she did consider leaving Tony.

"There came a point in our lives when Tony was so angry and so shameful that I just did not see any light at the end of the tunnel. … And really I came to a point where I realized that I was not going to be able to help him. I couldn't take this away. I had to look in the mirror and say, 'I need to take care of myself and I need to heal.' And it was from that moment really that I was able to come back into his life and realize that I couldn't solve this for him. … And I refused to let this be one more casualty of this abuse."
Tony and Oprah

Oprah: Have you been able to release the shame?

Tony: Yes and no. Slowly I am getting to the point where I do see a positive aspect to all of the pain that going through this process caused.

Oprah: I was shameful for so many years and I realized the reason I was ashamed is because I took responsibility for [my abuse]. I blamed myself for it. So you can release the shame when you realize that it wasn't your fault.

Tony: The hardest part for me was, all along my biggest fear was that had I stood up the first time, maybe somebody wouldn't have followed. … There's five or six other guys whose families are affected in the same way that mine is.

Oprah: If it had happened to you now as an adult or if it happened to you in the mind frame that you are now, you would stand up. But you were a little boy. This was your priest.

Tony's friend Dennis claims the same priest molested him for about three to four years when he was a teenager.

"I grew up in a house where my grandmother's twin brother was a Catholic priest. I have three aunts that are Catholic nuns. And I could not turn to any of them because what do you tell somebody when somebody's supposed to be guiding you spiritually [yet] is turning around and doing just the opposite behind everybody's back and right under their noses? Who are they going to believe?"

Dennis says he struggles with his past every day.

"I'm sitting here as a 34-year-old man, but talking about it…I am 15 years old again and scared to death now," he says. "I shave in the shower so I don't have to look at my face. I'll brush my teeth only after the mirror's been fogged over. Everybody tells me what a great person I am. But when I look in the mirror I see that 14-, 15-year-old kid, who if I would have said something then—would have found somebody who would have believed in me—there would have been five less victims after me from the same person. And to this day, I'm having a hard time dealing with that."
FROM: Molested by a Priest
Published on June 13, 2005


Next Story