Clergy Sex Abuse Survivor Dreads Pope Visit

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Robert Costello, who survived sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest when he was a child, says he is not looking forward to Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. this week. Costello is disturbed by all of the media coverage of the visit and doesn't think this pope is doing enough to help survivors.

Earlier this year, he penned an open letter to the pope expressing his disapproval with how the scandal has been handled. He wishes Pope Francis would meet with survivors here in Boston, which Costello and other survivors call the 'ground zero' of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

He says though the problem is out of the spotlight, it isn't going away.

Costello joins Here & Now's Robin Young to talk about his experience and the stress the upcoming papal visit has caused him.

Interview Highlights

How did you feel when you heard Pope Francis was coming to the U.S.? 

"Kind of like a punch in the gut. I just remember this stomach ache type thing where there was just dread."

"I was on the Boston Common when Pope John Paul came and said Mass and was totally unaware of my abuse history — it had been buried. And then after dealing with it for a while, I went to New York to protest Pope Benedict where survivors were corralled by bicycle racks at a certain spot. And when the pope pulled up onto that street, they pulled up dump trucks in front of us."

You appreciated a pope at one point, you protested a pope at one point. Now comes Pope Francis

"When Benedict came, there was meetings with survivors. On this guy's schedule, there's nothing. ... To us, as the survivor community, it just appears he's not paying any attention whatsoever to the clergy abuse crisis that started in this country and then went global."

What would you want to hear from this pope?

"Full disclosure. Names — and we're not talking about just names here in the United States, but across the globe. Pull the priests that have been transferred to South America and Africa and get them the help they need or — if it's criminal or civil charges, then it's up to the local authorities. It shouldn't be what the Vatican decides and what canon law is. I mean, the rape and abuse of a child is a crime."

"This is something that goes into your bone marrow. I haven't turned my television on a news station in days. I try to avoid it at all costs."

Is the scandal over? 

"No, there's a total of 6,000 clerics who have been accused of abuse. One hundred and thirty-eight names were added in 2012. The numbers keep going up."

What's happening now with Pope Francis? He's sort of a rock star in the world of religion

"He is — for what he says. Forgiveness of abortions and fast-track annulments. It's what people want to hear, but there's no real substance behind it."

What does the coverage of the pope's visit do to victims?

"It certainly increases medication — for all of us. This is something that goes into your bone marrow. I haven't turned my television on a news station in days. I try to avoid it at all costs."


  • Robert Costello, an abuse survivor who reached an out of court settlement with the church in 1995.

This segment aired on September 22, 2015.


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