A COUPLE of weeks from now, Kurt Gladsky, who says he was sexually abused while a student at a Catholic high school 36 years ago, will again leave his home in Florida, fly to Maryland and ask legislators here to open wider a window of justice.
For the second time in three years, Gladsky will testify in favor of legislation giving victims of childhood sexual abuse until they are 46 years old - that is, 28 years past the age of majority - to bring suit against those who molested them. Maryland law allows such lawsuits only before victims reach their 25th birthday; victims' advocates say that's not enough time. The House of Delegates bill, 1376, also asks for a one-year open filing period, so all victims, no matter their age, can sue.
In recent years, some states enacted extensions for filing civil actions, and some had wider windows on the books before the scandal in the Catholic church.
"Maryland is one of the most pedophile-friendly states in the country," says Joanne Suder, a Baltimore attorney with a specialty in pedophile and sexual abuse cases.
Though Catholic dioceses from Massachusetts to California have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, Suder says "dozens" more victims are waiting for compensation for lifelong emotional and physical pain resulting from abuse in Maryland.
Most, like Gladsky, waited many years before coming forward. Some were too ashamed. Others waited until their parents had died. Revelations of abuse by priests, starting in Boston in 2002, convinced other victims they were not alone.
"The only way to solve this problem is through the civil, legal process," Suder says. And that means giving victims more time to come forward.
The Maryland Catholic Conference opposed a similar legislative effort in 2003; an attorney for the Archdiocese of Baltimore argued that the church should not have to defend itself against such old allegations - Gladsky, for instance, says he was molested in 1969, while a freshman at Calvert Hall College, the Catholic high school in Towson - and that the church's money is needed for "fulfilling its mission."
But Gladsky, an angry and sometimes bitterly sarcastic critic of the Catholic hierarchy, insists that, despite the response of American bishops, the church has not made a full accounting of the problem. So he has crusaded for one - traveling frequently to Maryland, organizing, demonstrating, appearing on television, spending thousands of his own dollars and hiring a lobbyist to represent victims in Annapolis.
Gladsky brought his accusations about sexual abuse to the doorsteps of both Calvert Hall and the archdiocese, demanding more action by the Christian Brothers, who run the school, and Cardinal William H. Keeler.
Gladsky says he was molested by Brother Geffrey Xavier, a Calvert Hall fixture for many years, who died in 1984. Last summer, in a letter to parents and alumni, Brother Kevin Stanton, the school's president, and Louis E. Heidrick, its principal, acknowledged Gladsky's allegation, without naming him, and reported that a second, older alumnus had come forward, claiming abuse by Brother Xavier. It was a sad time, says Brother Kevin, who knew Brother Xavier and was among many who had fond memories of him.
"We believe that any allegations of abuse need to be taken seriously and carefully investigated, and that we have a responsibility to try and help men deal with their suffering," Stanton and Heidrick wrote. "At the same time, the reputation of a deceased person who cannot defend himself has also been a matter of great concern to us. While we have been hesitant to reach conclusions about someone who was highly respected by many in the school community, we do not feel we can ignore these allegations."
In consultation with alumni, Brother Kevin said in a recent interview, it was decided to drop Brother Xavier's name from a program for students with learning difficulties and rename it for St. John Baptist de La Salle, the founder of the Christian Brothers.
This winter, Calvert Hall published another statement on abuse, this time in the school magazine, The Cardinal, acknowledging allegations from the early 1970s against the Rev. Laurence Brett - a former chaplain and teacher named in numerous molestation accusations across the country - and apologizing for not seeking out more alleged victims at the time.
Brett's alleged victims at Calvert Hall numbered at least 14, according to Brother Kevin. The priest disappeared from Baltimore in the mid-1990s. Since then, the archdiocese and Calvert Hall conducted at least two investigations of allegations of abuse and reported findings to the Baltimore County state's attorney's office. Criminal charges were filed against him but later dropped because the specific child abuse statutes didn't exist in the early 1970s.
In recent years, Brett's alleged activities have been widely reported nationally. Never having been convicted of abuse, he has eluded authorities and was last seen on a Caribbean island.
A group of men claiming to be victims of Brett joined with the Baltimore-area chapters of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), a lay group demanding accountability for the abuse of children, and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in calling for apologies from those who placed Brett at Calvert Hall and ushered him quietly out of the school in 1973, after three students told a teacher that the priest had molested them.
"My intentions have never been to embarrass the school," says Bob Russell, a 1975 Calvert Hall graduate and self-described Brett survivor. "My intentions are to get the school to acknowledge and apologize for what it did, to find the other survivors [and] to stop the cycle of child sexual abuse."
Russell said Cardinal Keeler apologized to him personally in 2002. The meeting with the prelate, he said, "freed some of my soul and lifted a tremendous burden from my chest."
But what about compensation? Isn't that what Russell and other supporters of HB 1376 are after? Isn't that why they want the limits on civil action extended into middle age?
"The answers to that question vary from survivor to survivor," Russell says. "There are those who are consumed by it. There are others who want nothing but the church held liable and accountable. ...
"For survivors," he added, "there is no statute of limitations on the effects of child sex abuse. It is a lifelong sentence. ... The notion of 'getting over it,' as is common for survivors to hear, is relative to each survivor. Some take their own lives, some internalize it, others find a way to manage it in their day-to-day lives. But no one ever 'gets over it.'"
Brother Kevin said the older man who came to see him at Calvert Hall, to talk about his allegations against Brother Xavier, did not ask for compensation from his alma mater. He just wanted the school to remove Brother Xavier's name from any station of honor and, above all, the man wanted the school to remain vigilant, to protect the boys now in its care. One of them was the man's grandson.