The Pain of Publicity

He was a hellion in his teens and twenties but has since grown into a solid husband and father.

He served in the Marines, which helped steel him for his current job as a crackshot paramedic for Mesa General Hospital.

Mark Kennedy has a right to be defined as a strong man and a family man who served his country and saves people from death every day.

Now, though, he must suffer the indignity of being defined as a little boy who had a priest's hands down his pants.

Herein lies the strange torture for Kennedy and other victims who come forward to tell their stories of abuse by pedo-priests.

"Coming forward with this was the most difficult decision of my life," Kennedy told me. It was his first extensive interview about his alleged abuse by Father Patrick Colleary, who is currently under investigation by Maricopa County prosecutors. "And having come forward has created the most difficult time of my life.

"But through all of it, I've tried to keep one thing in mind — silence is exactly what abusers want, and I refuse to give an abuser what he wants.

"He's a jerk, and I'm not going to play shy."

According to the Phoenix Diocese's public information officer, Colleary is currently on vacation in Ireland and could not be reached for comment. A request to speak with the attorney representing Colleary also was denied by Diocesan officials.

In the past, Colleary has repeatedly and vehemently denied the charges leveled by Mark Kennedy and others who claim abuse at his hands.

For Kennedy, his past abruptly overwhelmed his present one night in March as he watched the local evening news. On television he saw Father Michael O'Grady, the pastor of the church he attended as a child, claiming that the Phoenix Diocese had never hidden cases of abuse of children by priests.

The scene triggered memories of countless hours spent as a child at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tempe.

Then he began to remember the church's associate pastor at the time, Patrick Colleary. And he began to remember being cornered by Colleary, and being touched by Colleary, and being embarrassed and running to hide, and he remembered never ever wanting his brothers or anyone to know what happened to him.

"Something connected watching O'Grady on television," Kennedy said. "I began to remember what happened. It was a weird, awful night."

The memories first made him sick, then angry.

"I remembered a time around Christmas; there were Christmas ornaments and a manger set up at the church.

"It was where the altar boys used to change, a little meeting room. I wasn't an altar boy, but my brothers were. I was always back there, tagging around.

"I remember Father Pat was always tickling. This time he tickled me back into a little alcove where the altar boys change.

"I remember his hands being very cold. I remember smells, his cologne. Just the whole environment was weird and awful.

"I remember him putting his hands down my pants. I remember he was reaching around, he was putting or trying to put his finger up inside me.

"I don't know how long it lasted. Then he just scooted me back into the room. I just remember I was in total shock. I had no idea what to do.

Another scene flashed into Kennedy's mind. He remembers it being right before Christmas 1978.

"I had been sent into a classroom to get something," Kennedy said. "He came in behind me. He came up behind me, and I remember he came down with both hands into my pants. I remember he seemed angry with me or perturbed with me. I remember afterwards being real standoffish with other kids and my brothers. I didn't want to play or do anything."

Kennedy remembered a third incident. It was in his bedroom at the Kennedy's old home in north Chandler.

"Patrick had come over to visit. I was lying at the end of the bed, lying perpendicular to the bed. Patrick was standing over me.

"I remembered it getting interrupted."

Kennedy said he was so troubled by his recollections that he went to speak to Diocesan officials. At the time, he said, he was most interested in getting counseling.

"It was such a weird set of emotions," he said. "I just felt I needed to speak to someone."

He spoke to Michael Diskin, a top Diocesan official. Diskin offered him apologies and counseling, but Diskin made it clear, Kennedy said, that there were no grounds to pursue criminal charges.

Kennedy said he noticed something very strange in Diskin's office. Diskin had on his desk a file labeled "Mark Kennedy."

"At that point I had no idea why I had a file with the Diocese," he said.

But he soon found out. A few days later, he went to his mother's house to tell her about the things he'd been remembering.

"There's something going on in my life right now," Mark told his mother, Doris.

He described the three incidences. Doris appeared to be nervous. She didn't say a word for several minutes. Finally, she responded:

"There's more to it than you know," she said.

Doris wasn't aware of the two incidences at the church.

But she did know about the incident in her house. Mark's older brother, Dominic, had walked in on Colleary fondling Mark.

Dominic told his mother. Enraged, Doris and her husband, Jack, went to Father O'Grady demanding that something be done about Patrick Colleary.

Nothing was done. Instead, Doris said, O'Grady told them they should keep quiet about the issue. And that they should not talk to Mark about the molestations to avoid "reinforcing it in the little guy's mind," Doris said O'Grady told them.

Doris and Jack went to Diocesan officials, who did nothing. Then they went to local police, whose investigation apparently entailed only asking Colleary if he had molested Mark. Police did not interview Mark or Dominic.

As Doris told her story to Mark, he became angry. He felt betrayed.

"It was upsetting to realize that all the adults in your life knew something awful had happened to you, but all of them failed to do anything about it," he said.

Then Doris angered Mark even further. She had read a column I wrote back in April about the Diocese's history of sheltering priests who were known to be trouble. Also angered by the bishop's claims that he had never shielded sexually deviant priests, Doris called me and told the story of how she and her husband had been told to keep silent about the molestation of one of their sons by their parish priest.

Over the following weeks, though, Mark's opinion changed on speaking publicly about what had happened to him. He realized that he had to stand up and fight.

"I was really mad at my mom at first for calling you," he said. "I know now that it has had some good results — that he's being investigated, that others are talking now — but it was extremely hard to deal with in the beginning.

"Imagine having this in your life," he said. "Every single person you know is going to know about this — friends, enemies, whatever. That fear of having this define me was overwhelming."

I wrote about Mark. The Republic then wrote about him. After a few weeks, he agreed to a short television interview.

His face was all over Phoenix.

His worst fears weren't realized. While he could tell that some friends and family members shied away from him, most congratulated him for his courage and offered heartfelt support.

Even strangers in the supermarket have approached him.

"It has only been positive," he said. "The people I know and love understand how tough this is, and they're being remarkably supportive."

Now Kennedy is just waiting to hear the results of the investigation by county prosecutors. He feels confident they have enough evidence to bring charges against Patrick Colleary.

Then Kennedy hopes to begin ridding himself of the anger he feels toward the church.

"I'm still at the point where I can't stop asking O'Brien and O'Grady and the police at the time: Where the hell was your sense of duty? What could possibly have been on your mind to do nothing?' Then to ship these guys off to whatever other parish without telling the people."

"It still seems beyond outrageous to me," he said.

"It seems absolutely criminal."

I couldn't agree more.

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Robert Nelson