April 03, 2005

United by their need to heal


Sunday, April 3, 2005


TOTOWA - In the past, they might have found themselves on separate sides of a protest march. One is a Mexican-American police officer and former Marine with a neat haircut. The other is a bearded Chicano professor with a rebellious streak.

But on Saturday the men came together for the same cause: to talk about being abused as children by Catholic priests, and to encourage other Latino victims to come forward.

About 25 people showed up at the first national meeting of Latino clergy abuse victims, held at the borough's American Legion hall. The meeting was organized by Johnny Vega of Wallington, who says he was abused by a parish priest in Paterson more than 20 years ago. Partly as a way to cope, Vega founded a Latino branch of the group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Totowa in May of last year. This year, he decided to broaden the group to Latino victims nationwide.

However, on Saturday, few of the victims, victims' supporters and family members who sat on folding chairs watching a panel of speakers were Latino. Vega said he wasn't surprised. He said Latino victims were often "too scared" to come out publicly about sexual abuse.

"You repress it, you forget about it," he said. "But eventually it's going to surface again, and you're going to have to face it." Talking about it, he said, is "one way to face it."

Posted by kshaw at April 3, 2005 09:11 PM