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Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Face Lifelong Financial Burdens 03:53
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Pittsburgh resident Ray Santori is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest. The economic consequences have been considerable. (Sarah Boden/WESA)
Pittsburgh resident Ray Santori is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest. The economic consequences have been considerable. (Sarah Boden/WESA)

When Ray Santori was 10, his mother died. His father had died the year before, so an aunt and uncle near Pittsburgh took him in.

Not long after that at Saint Bernadette Church in Monroeville, Pa., Santori met Father William Yockey, who according to the recent grand jury report, sexually assaulted him for about two years.

"I felt that, I mean, I sometimes couldn't look people in the eye because they would know," says Santori. "I felt that everybody knew that I was sexually abused."

Santori says he started drinking and using drugs. He left the house before finishing high school. Since then, he's been homeless and incarcerated for a time.

"The sexual abuse drove me into such a dark place that it was hard to get a grip on responsibly, reality, work, you know, saving money," he says.

Today, Santori says he's 26 months sober and makes a decent living as a carpenter. But economically, the 53-year-old is not in good shape. During more than three decades of addiction, Santori estimates he's spent up to $2 million on drugs and alcohol.

I'll probably have to work until the day I die.

Ray Santori, survivor of childhood sexual abuse

"I know this. I'll probably have to work until the day I die," he says.

Being sexually abused as a child can shape someone's entire life, including their health, relationships, spirituality and finances. The loss of income can be enormous.

Yet, of the more than 1,000 victims documented in the Pennsylvania grand jury report on Catholic clergy sex abuse, just a handful can bring civil lawsuits which could lead to financial restitution. The statute of limitations expires when a victim turns 30.

Quantifying economic loss

Health economist Derek Brown at Washington University in St. Louis researches the effects of child maltreatment. This spring he published a paper on the lifetime financial burden of child sex abuse.

"We can compare it to say, cost of disease, you know, to other types of injury or illness," he says.

Brown factored in things like medical care and quality of life. Per individual, this loss averages more than $80,000, and that's not including loss of income. All told, he calculated the financial effects can average more than $300,000.

"You have a modest impact of a few thousand dollars a year for earnings, but that accumulates over the life cycle," says Brown, "you have 40-plus years of those impacts for a victim."

Survivors of sex abuse often develop depression and anxiety, which affects their performance at work or school.

They may have trouble or issues with the boss at work because it's hard for them to potentially trust those who have authority and power.

Tom Plante, Santa Clara University

"There are reminders all around," says Tom Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, who studies clergy sex abuse. "Maybe you drive by a church or you're watching a movie and a priest shows up in the movie, or you're asked to attend a wedding or a funeral."

Abuse and workplace performance

After being abused by these powerful figures, victims can develop issues with hierarchy. Career-wise this is problematic.

"They may have trouble or issues with the boss at work because it's hard for them to potentially trust those who have authority and power," says Plante, who also provides talk therapy to clergy abuse victims.

Sexual assault of any kind is traumatizing. But both experts and victims say offenders in the church are often seen as god-like leaders whom no one questions.

"Priests go to mass every day and create miracles...they have the ability to take away all your sins," explains Boston-based therapist Ann Hagan Webb. She specializes treating people who, like her, are survivors of clergy sex abuse.

Webb, also a former member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says many of her patients find authority so triggering they end up jumping from job to job.

"When I think about the people who are successful, they're the ones that are relatively independent in their jobs," she says. "I've worked for myself for 35 years."

Still, it's hard to always draw a clear connection between abuse and a lifetime of financial problems, since perpetrators tend to target kids, like Ray Santori, who were already troubled. Santori isn't positive the abuse led to him blowing millions of dollars on drugs and alcohol.

"But I definitely look back and am disheartened by how quick the time passed, and how far behind the game I am," he says.

At this point, Santori says there's nothing he can do, but keep moving forward.

Correction: September 4, 2018 12:00 am — In the audio, as in a previous version of the Web story, we incorrectly say that Derek Brown is at George Washington University in St. Louis. The correct name is Washington University.

Copyright NPR 2019.

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