To interview Jon, I flew across the country and spent a weekend with him and his big, warm, and lively family.
Jon and I had to get out of the house to record, because there was so much going on with his 11 brothers and sisters, their friends and their children that it was impossible to find a quiet, uninterruptible space. So we climbed into his beater station wagon, The Rusted Granny. Among the many things we talked about was his dream of becoming a pilot.
I like this photo because it captures Jon as we talked. Driving around the New Jersey Pine Barrens, with my tape recorder between us, Jon and I talked about how he was abused by the family priest at age ten, the bad years that followed, and how he pulled his life out of a nosedive. Here are some of the things he said:
Even after the abuse stopped, I was so worried about it, so confused. I started having migraine headaches and I couldn’t sleep through the night. I had these nightmares every night. I’d wake up sweating and crying …
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. The schools inform you on sexual diseases, drugs, and alcohol, which is good, but they need to hit a lot of other issues, like sexual abuse.
When I started middle school and realized what sex is, that’s when I really started having a problem with this… What happened with Father Jim made me feel like a lesser person.
Jon slid into drug and alcohol use in middle school, was hostile to his family, and eventually attempted suicide. An observant teacher got help for him.
Sometimes when you are in school you see these kids who are misfits, these kids that are out there that nobody really takes a liking to, these drug addicts or bad apples. You say, “Ah, that kid’s nothing but a piece of crap.” But if you look deeper into a person’s life, you realize maybe there’s something behind it. Maybe he needs help.
In therapy Jon was able to connect the dots between the abuse and his violent behavior. But that wasn’t all that Jon needed or wanted.
I saw a couple of older guys on TV who were abused by priests… That’s when I realized I wasn’t the only one. I am not alone.
So I got hold of this group called SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. I started going to meetings, met other people just like me. It was one of the biggest healing processes for me because—therapist, family friends—no matter how much they want to help, people do not understand how your feel unless they have gone through it, too.
Jon was 17, the youngest member of the group, but he decided to speak out publicly about his experiences because he wanted to help other kids.
What happened next—confronting his bishop at a SNAP vigil, front page coverage in a major newspaper, the reaction of his family and the kids at school–are all covered in Jon’s chapter.
What we didn’t include was that at the time of the interview, Jon was working with the District Attorney to build a case against the former priest who had molested him seven years earlier. It was important that we not discuss it then because we didn’t want to jeopardize the case.
Convictions in sexual abuse cases are hard to come by, especially when it is a “he said, he said” situation. So Jon was wired and called the man who molested him, to talk about what happened. That phone call provided iron clad evidence against the former priest.
Articulate and clear about the abuse, Jon was an excellent witness for the prosecution. Once Jon’s offender was arrested, another boy came forward. Instead of going to court and risking 35 years in prison, Father Jim plead guilty and received a lighter sentence of 12 years.
In his interview for Strong at the Heart Jon talks about wanting to learn to fly airplanes. Since then, Jon has graduated from high school and earned his pilot’s license. He made his dream come true.