After the NCAA issued its ruling against Penn State today, part of me celebrated that the egregious cover-up was being treated seriously, and part of me mourned the justice that was not done after my brother’s death, after the deaths of four other victims, after thirty years of abuse was shoved under the rug.
NCAA president Mark Emmert called the case the most painful “chapter in the history of intercollegiate athletics,” and said it could be argued that the punishment was “greater than any other seen in NCAA history. Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” Emmert said.
That’s good. That’s a step in the right direction. But I can’t help getting mad all over again. By the time Robert Larson’s (the priest who abused my brother) legacy of sexual victimization hit the media, the statute of limitations had passed for many of his victims, and he couldn’t face criminal charges for many of them. There may be a statute of limitations on sexual abuse (which is ludicrous), but there’s no statute of limitations on grief. On pain. On depression. The “Joe Paternos” of my brother’s story are still held in relatively high esteem. Their “statues” haven’t been removed. Their reputation is hardly tarnished.
My dear father wrote this letter to Judge Ice, prior to Larson’s sentencing. His words are haunting, but powerful. He was a father, who lost a son. His baby. A boy that he still talks to every day.
Dear Judge Ice:
I sat down waiting to get a hair cut last week. My normal waiting activity is reading; however nothing was handy. My mind was on nothing. A father’s voice from a few seats away caught my attention. “Sit still, Bobby, it’s not going to hurt. There, it’s OK, the nice man is just cutting your hair …it will make you look nice for Mommy”. I caught my breath. It was as if I couldn’t get enough air and felt hot, empty and somewhat claustrophobic. I then realized that, of course, this was Saturday morning at the barbershop. Another boy sat in front of me very close to tears as his father also assured him that he was right there and everything was going to be just fine. I wanted to bolt but I couldn’t move. Like those two boys I was afraid and close to tears.
My heart was pounding and my stomach was knotting up. Sounds and sights started to slow down as I peered into this tunnel and the surroundings become foreign, distant and of no importance to me now. I was thinking of Eric. I was on vacation in Oklahoma, waiting for my little boy to get his hair cut. As those men around me I was my child’s protector. From Eric’s echo I clearly hear “Dad” but I look around and the lady is asking me “Sir, sir, are you ready?”
My hair is being cut and I watch the watchers as several young boys and girls are watching fish watch them from inside a fish tank. One boy now has his nose right up to the glass and is trying to stay abreast of a small fish as it goes back and forth. They all giggle. I force my mind away from them. Although she has only cut my hair a couple of times the barber mentions the articles about Eric. I thank her for her comments and for bringing it up for, if he is mentioned, I openly enjoy talking to anyone about Eric. You see, I am proud to be Eric’s father.
In a cubicle I am answering questions before I have some medical tests done. From beyond the divider I hear, “O what a beautiful baby boy.” My mind snaps back to Eric. Oh, if they only could have seen him, if only, if only. When I awake, during the day and before I sleep I think of Eric, always.
Only now am I starting to fully realize what a precious soul we have lost.
I’ve been so focused on Eric’s adult life and his death that I, until now, was not able to clearly remember or ponder, for any length of time, on Eric’s life as a child.
Until now, God in his wisdom has, no doubt, been protecting me from this task.
With a trembling heart I will now allow my mind to remember Eric as a young, loving child. It is so terribly hard. I pray I can now do this –for I owe it to Eric.
Eric’s death is not something that I will ever “get over, move on from, find closure for, come to grips with, or not be in denial over, etc.” How can a parent “not” understand that their child is dead? Is there a “timetable” or “statute of limitation” for grieving that, on a certain date, one should start to forget that a loved one is lost? I do not fault people for thinking, and sometime saying that this is what one must do to be made “whole” again. In general people just do not know what to say and we understand that. Thank God I can still feel Eric’s hugs and even today hear his voice. No, if it means missing this experience I would rather not “find closure” or “move on” with life.
I guess some kind of “healing process” is required; however, when one is in the deepest throes of suffering ,it’s hard to think in these terms. In many ways Janet and I are having a harder time now than ever. Through experience I take some comfort in the fact that, over time, “life” and the day-to-day demands it requires will, more and more, mercifully crowd in between Eric’s death and the “here and now”. However, my life will never be the same since two policemen told me “your son Eric has committed suicide and how very sorry I am that it is my duty to tell you this.” To this day I still cannot sit on our couch in the same place that I sat when they told me this. Myself, in shock, and my wonderful sister Betty, she was the first one I called, then had the awful responsibility of contacting and informing the rest of my family. Telling Janet and our other children, Becky (33) her husband Curtis, Catherine (17) and Luke (21) was so very very painful and almost unbearable thing to do for Eric was loved so much. Becky then had to explain to her four boys just what happened to their loving uncle. It makes me so sad to see these words on my computer screen as it brings it all back to me again. As I write this through my tears I now start to understand a little about what my grandmother and mother went through when my father was killed in the Navy in WWII. She, now with three young children to raise alone, only mentioned once what it was like when she opened the door and found two officers there. Like the “policemen” they had a task I could never do.
Eric loved me and I loved him and, as with all of our family, we often hug and express this to each other and have always done so. Our family will be sadly and terribly affected for generations by Eric’s death. What will be passed down from generation to generation about his abuser? Will it be said that he spent 90 days in jail while others with similar crimes spent 10 years? Will it be said that it was possibly because he was a “man of the cloth” and/or some state legal issues? I wish Eric had lived to see 70 years as Larson has. Who knows, Eric may have married and had children. We have lost this as well. Who knows?
Larson has never attempted to personally seek out other victims that may be facing suicide due to his sexual abuse. The Church, in order to try to prevent the loss of another life, needs to do more. A couple of sentences in the news, comments uttered by his lawyer or four (blame shifting) articles in the Catholic Advance leave a lot to be desired. Could it be that Larson’s and the church’s prayers would have been answered if Eric had been run over by a truck instead of exposing this scandal and paying for it with his life?
There is no “statute of limitation” for the pain this man has caused. Victims will never know how lives would have been if only Larson had not been sent to their parish. Sweet little innocent boys with an open heart and complete trust in God, church and their local priest whom they called “Father” had their young lives torn to shreds by being betrayed by this “man of the cloth”.
Were the tears Larson shed in court for the victims, their families and for the harm he has caused or were they shed for getting caught? I’m sure he feels, in some way, that he is a victim also. If so, of what or made so by whom? He should feel good in the fact that he now has an opportunity to accept responsibility for his actions. He needs to pay the consequences, as anyone convicted in Kansas of molesting children would, prior to meeting his maker. As the church always recommends and touts, I wonder if they and Larson have already “forgiven” those that put him in the situation he is in now.
I understand the plea bargain agreement struck by Larson and some of his victims and I applaud them for pursuing their case as best they could. These victims, and many you haven’t heard from due to statute of limitations barriers, are indeed heroes. Our thanks go to all of to them, yourself, Detective T. Walton, County Attorney Matt Treaster, and Victim/Witness Coordinator Cheryl Ainsworth, and others who worked long and hard to send a strong message that “clergy sexual abuse” will not be tolerated and will be vigorously investigated and judged accordingly.
Possible decisions made, or not made, about Larson and his “problem”, in the past, were done with, I assume, legal and public relations problems foremost in mind. If so, everyone lost (including Larson). I pray that your decision will not be wholly influenced by these same factors alone. Let the law, and fairness to those harmed, guide you in making your decision regarding the length of Larson’s sentencing.