Over time, Gibson became much more controlling and aggressive. He was less likely to “soften” me up with alcohol and much more forward when he had the opportunity to get me alone. His initial caring words and expressions of god’s love and understanding that what we were doing was good and right and part of the way god allowed him to express his love for “his boys” turned very menacing. The more I resisted or tried to fight him off, the more physically and emotionally abusive he became. I think he was determined to break me. I am not ready to get into more detail on the actual acts he committed at my expense. In the back of my head I am afraid that the salacious details would be the equivalent of porn for perp priests. I also don’t think at this point it is information that I can just put out there. I am not there yet.
The threats were subtle at first. He would tell me that no one would take the word of a child over that of a priest. Anything that I would say would be the product of an over active imagination and disregarded. He told me I would be severely punished for telling lies. Any allegations made would motivate my mother to send me away. He always seemed to infer that he had her passive permission because priests had a special station in life. It was his privilege and therefore no one would do anything about the situation on the outside chance that they believed me. But, rest assured, I would not be believed. He told me the nuns and lay teachers at the school would not do anything and the other priests would support him. After all, they all had their “favorites” as well. I was suspicious and afraid of anyone on the staff of the school. Whether it was rational or not, I became convinced that people were aware of what he was doing to me and that they had no problem with it. I would look in disbelief at the people in the schools office when he would take me off campus during the school day.
The nature of the threats changed rapidly. Since he was a powerful and well loved pastor he could expel me and my siblings from Notre Dame and St. Matthews Elementary school without anyone challenging him. He was above reproach. His word would be good enough to remove us all from school. He told me that my siblings would hate me for having to attend a public school and leaving their friends behind. My parents would be humiliated, my mother especially, since she had gone to Gibson for pastoral counseling. More sinister threats of taking advantage of a younger sibling or of beatings began as he tried to keep me under his control. Finally, it came down to telling me that if I spoke out and told anyone, I would disappear and never be found. I would simply be erased and, after a short while, no one would give my absence a second thought. I was only in my first year at the school and I would soon fade from the collective memory of those at the school. It was clear that I was expendable.
I was completely terrorized by his words. He knew it! I could not believe that all of this was true, but at age 13 I had no way to know for sure that it was not the truth. This he also knew and exploited. What was true was that all of this seemed to be about power and control. The fact that he got off on it seemed to be an extra benefit for him.
I’m sure he told my mother that he was acting as a mentor and offering opportunities for me to do interesting things on my own with a good male role model. He exploited her as clearly as he had exploited me. Much to my horror, she would allow him to take me on overnight trips, one lasting as long as a week. He took me to the new rectory when it was completed. It was his own personal pedophile pleasure palace and masturbatorium. He would talk about the rectory as a great personal accomplishment. He took me to New York “to see some plays” and to Walt Disney World. On a couple of occasions he took me off school grounds during the school day for “pastoral counseling”. I went along, I was too frightened to put up a fight or tell someone what was happening to me.
I am curious about how long it took him to perfect this intimidation on other children. Did this start before the seminary? Was it something he slowly came to? How soon after entering the seminary or being ordained did he identify his first victim? How many victims did he have? Did he focus on just boys or was he an equal opportunity abuser? The Diocese of Scranton says that they had 4 reports including mine. I think that the Diocese is so lacking in credibility that they cannot be believed. I don’t think I will ever have answers. Those that know don’t have the stones to tell the truth.
I would like to think that I successfully broke away from his control at the beginning of my freshman year in high school I have some doubts about that, though. It is as likely that I was simply getting too old for his perverse tastes. Sullen preteens turn into unmanageable, moody teenagers. I grew over that summer and I was determined to get so active in the school that there would be no opportunity for Gibson to get me alone. Hiding became less about being invisible and more about being out in front of the crowd, in plain site. It made it harder for him to cut me from the herd and back under his grip.
I can only assume he moved on to someone else. I lived with the ever present fear of him coming back for me, I would break into a cold sweat anytime he would show up at the school. I was always off balance if I knew he was in the school building. His presence at the school gradually became very infrequent. I think he kept tabs on me to make sure I was not going to make trouble for him. What was worse than the fear of him coming back for me was the guilt that comes with knowing that if he had moved on to a new target, I was responsible. I had not tried to stop him by turning him in or killing him. Believe me, I wanted him dead in the most heinous way possible. I agonized over that for decades. Any victim that came after me was my responsibility. I am still haunted by it. To date, the other victims of Gibson that I have spoken with came before me on his time line of preying on children. I am afraid of the day when I talk to someone who was a victim of Robert Gibson after the fall of 1974. I don’t know how to ask for them to forgive me for not being stronger and turning the bastard in. I don’t know that I could look them in the eye. I could have done something, anything and they would have been spared the pain, betrayal and anguish. Their lives would not have suffered a similar oblique as the one in my life at that point.
Intellectually I understand that this is not rational, that I was a child in a horrible situation that was out of my control. That does not take away the guilt nor does it help me sleep at night. Even 35 years later, I wake in the dead of the night sometimes and the thoughts are there as a reminder. Sometimes it seems like it all happened yesterday.
My relationships with my parents and my siblings went downhill in 1974. I became quiet and withdrawn at home. I wanted nothing more than to wish away high school and get out of the Poconos. College was to be my liberation. All energy was focused to that end. Those who knew my family probably thought this was all related to my father’s drinking. This made sense, the truth however was much more sinister. It was a good cover, so I used it. It was easier to be the brooding son of an emotionally abusive alcoholic father than the sexual play thing of a pedophile priest. Afterall, I had been told, very convincingly, that no one would believe me and that the price to pay for telling the story would be higher than I could bear. I believed that for over three decades. What a horrible price I have paid for keeping that secret!
1 thought on “Threats and intimidation”
This pattern has repeated itself in many cities, with many perps. The same threats, the same cunning, use of the mother to get to the child. As you tell your story here I am reminded of the story I published about Peter Saracino in upstate New York a while back. He to this day is still afraid of his perp.
Don’t feel guilty, Mike. Realize you are one of thousands. It wasn’t just you and the boys this one perp got to after you, it’s about a national church heirarchy that protected itself and allowed these crimes to continue. It’s a secretive culture that let this crime take place over and over again, that’s the focus, the bishops were the real criminals here, as bad as Gibson was, they let him do it.
Congratulate yourself for holding it together as well as you have, and, Michael, I can guarantee you, you will find more perps and their victims throughout Virginia.
Keep Digging! Keep writing!