BOSTON (CBS) – Gary Bergeron helped uncover the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis in Boston a decade ago. Now this survivor of Joseph Birmingham is speaking out for the first time since the Penn State scandal broke last week. For him, it’s déjà vu. “A different name that’s it: A powerful institution, protecting themselves, leaving the children to fend for themselves.” But he also see progress: “I think Penn State has learned that the response we received from the Catholic Church is not the way to do it.”
Bergeron says when he first saw the reports of the child sexual abuse cover up at Penn State, “I had a knot in my stomach. I really had a knot in my stomach. This is happening again. The people are defending a molester and the institution that protected him. That’s why I didn’t speak about it for a week.”
At first, he was dismayed by the response, especially the riots in support of Coach Paterno. “I wanted to see what would happen. When the kids started rioting, I said this is an institution that is supposed to teach children how to behave and this is what happening.”
WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports
But once they understood the case, he says Penn State started taking immediate steps in the correct direction. “I think what happened with Penn State, if there could be an almost ideal response, this would have been it. Once everyone understood this was real, these were children, this isn’t about Penn State, this isn’t about Joe Paterno, this is about the sexual abuse of children. Once they understood that they took immediate steps.”
Bergeron says this is much different than the way the Catholic Church and many parishioners responded. “Ten years ago we had over 100 priests admitting it on paper. Had parents taken the time to read those documents we would be in a different place today.”
When Bergeron first came forward, he was called a liar. “It’s just a shame to me for all of the survivors that came forward 10 years ago, we were not believed. There was an opportunity in Boston ten years ago for society to start engaging and no one wanted to talk about it.”
Bergeron says he is not surprised by what Sandusky had to say. “The pathology that these people have it’s not reality. This man doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. He really believes that. I don’t believe he is lying. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.”
Bergeron says he has taken time to understand pedophiles, and sees many parallels with Sandusky. “He is a very dangerous man. He believes all he was doing was taking a shower and horsing around. My first abuse was in a shower. A grown man doesn’t take a shower with a 10 year old or 12 year old. You just don’t do it. It’s not acceptable. He believes what he was saying that he’s just horsing around. I’ve read the grand jury report. That’s not horsing around.”
Bergeron says he remembers ten years ago sitting with Cardinals and Bishops that had seen the facts of abuse by priests, and didn’t think they had done anything wrong.
He says, “If people had taken time to read the documents that were out there, they would have been shocked.”
Bergeron is now urging every parent to read the Sandusky case grand jury report. “Parents need to take the time to read that grand jury report, there is no gray area.” He says, “It’s an opportunity for us as a society to engage in a subject we don’t want to talk about. We had that opportunity ten years ago in Boston. Survivors opened up a door, we were hoping society would walk through, and they didn’t ten years ago. I am hopeful that this is an opportunity for every parent to speak to their child.”
Bergeron says child sexual abuse affects one in three people. “This is about childhood sexual abuse. It affects people. It’s another time society has an opportunity to speak about an ugly issue. Sexual abuse of children is ugly. The conversation about it doesn’t need to be. We need to engage this issue. We have another opportunity. Let’s not miss it.”
For more information visit SurvivorsVoice.org.