At age five, 1954, "the Bishop" (Chicago's Cardinal Stritch) stood over me and said, I had to "stop babbling" about what the priest did to me. It took me 40 years to talk about it again. Today, I babble.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

New one act play shows passion of going public about crimes of pedophile priest

By Kay Ebeling

It's yet another case of a Catholic priest insinuating himself on a parish family then raping the children. Survivor Joe Capozzi of New York City is also an artist, so as he went public with his charges against Monsignor Peter Cheplic of New Jersey, Capozzi also burst out his story in a one-act play. The result is "For Pete's Sake" a portrayal of the anguish of Capozzi's first dealing with the crimes, and the obliqueness of being an adult victim of pedophile priests.

Capozzi is an actor-writer building professional credits and living in Manhattan. In "For Pete's Sake" he writes and performs what he went through before going to the media and law enforcement in 2006 to report a Catholic priest's sexual assaults that started in Joe's early adolescence. Capozzi used his art as a way of coming to terms with the serial crimes. Today performances of "For Pete's Sake" raise money for Road to Recovery, a support organization for adult victims of pedophile priests in New Jersey and New York.

Capozzi knew he couldn't just tell one or two people what happened and then let the secret continue to fester inside. So he put the angst and confusion of the experience into a one act play that is moving and dynamic and brings the experience alive.

Joe told me about the play in a recent phone conversation and sent me the script. Below are quotes from that conversation along with, in italics, quotes from the play. In the scene below Joe sees that his friend's son is the next target being groomed by Father Pete, and he has to say or do something:

Pete: He is special.
Joe: I would see-
Voice3: Those hugs
Joe: The gifts, the attention, seeing Pete with Little James is like looking in the mirror.
Voice3: He’ll do it again
Joe: I gotta call him. Oh man, what am I going to say, Hey Father Pete diddled me and I’m worried about your son...?
Voice1: It’s okay
Joe: Umm Pete...
James: What?
Voice2: Oh what the heck.
Joe: Pete’s done things to me
James: What are you talking about?
Joe: Physically, Pete, Pete’s done some things to me, you’re going to be hearing some things soon, he’s sick and I’m worried about Little James
James: What?
Joe: I just want you to know…
James: What things?
Joe: …I can’t…please just keep Little James away from Father Pete.

From phone interview:

The play portrays the battle between these three voices in my head, the good, bad and sensitive unsure child. It takes us through a 20 year period I held the secret. I knew Father Pete since I was seven years old. Look back now it’s of course, you can see the origin - that moment when I first met him, I didn't trust him-

Voice1: Sunday dinners turn into Birthdays, turn into the holidays. Next thing you know-
Joe: Welcome to the family, Father.

I never bought into it, as a kid, I never really did. I was scared of it, I was fearful of the place, because our family didn't always go to church, and the nuns and priests were scary people. When I first met Father Pete, I thought, this guy is scary. Then he pretty much won me over with attention.

In the play I portray a specific moment age 13 14. I yearned to have a mentor in my life, someone who understood me. My parents were great but I was definitely a sensitive kind of emotionally needy kid.

And I loved the arts, I loved talking about politics, I was interested in those things and he was the perfect person to talk to about that stuff. He was interested in theater and arts and music and we would talk about everything. Was he just telling me what I wanted to hear, and that then begins the whole struggle within. He’s telling you you're special, then he starts physically abusing you.

Voice2: Typical story.
Joe: We know that now.
Voice1: But you did keep your distance at first
Joe: As much as I could
Voice1: But he worked you well
Joe: He did, but I don’t think he liked me at first either.
Voice3: That was his plan.
Joe: He would call me…
Pete: You little shit
Joe: Always when mom and pop weren’t around.

I didn't want the play For Pete's Sake to be about abuse, it’s a story about a relationship. And there’s a lot of humor in it, because that's how I dealt with it, and how I survived, was being the joker and with humor, and that's what's in the play.

You can affect people better with laughter, they open up, then you hit them over the head with this drama, no one wants to sit there for an hour and a half feeling miserable. Entertaining people I have a better shot at getting a message out, is my feeling, for people that come to the show.

Joe: I actually started to look forward to seeing him; I wanted him to like me. I had someone I can trust, just like that.
Voice2: You’ve been groomed!
Joe: Now that word. groomed. Sounds like I’m a dog. What do they teach grooming in the seminary, seems like these priests all use the same techniques. They must have a handbook

I had to play dead a lot of times.

Pretend to be passed out tell him I took the Dramamine when I didn't take them, then having to deal with him sneaking up on me in the middle of the night. Me pretending I was passed out and physically trying to cover myself up without letting him know that I was not passed out. ‘’I’ve had a number of years of dealing with that and that's in the play, what a typical night with him would be, passing out, faking being passed out, then dealing with him in the night coming to check on me.

Then I’d leave and be telling myself, ‘you are such a scumbag.’ And then he gives you gifts and this turns into a self hatred, disgust with yourself, you feel like people can see it and smell it on you.

Mom: Father Pete is planning a trip to Australia and he offered to take you as well. It would be a gift, would that be something you’d like to do?
Voice1: No!
Joe: Australia wow, that’s far away, cool.
Pete: Here we go, are you ready for another!
Joe: Sure, I need to get used to drinking like this for college
Joe: Enough! Never got to see where Crocodile Dundee lived. I hated that trip. I still feel
like that 18 year old, and not in a good “hey I’m so cool for my age” way. I started to
look at things very differently. The world got darker.
Time to go to college. Pack up, me and my little secret.
Pete: So did you jerk off today?
Voice3: Oh crap here it comes


(City of Angels: Like many adult victims - and this is a story I’ve heard several times in the last three years of interviewing the crime victims Joey asked the perpetrator priest to officiate at his wedding.

His Perpetrator Performed His Wedding?

Joe explained:)

It’s this priest that you're friends with, he’s close with your family, he’s married your brother, your cousins. When it’s time for me to get married, I have to do it in a Catholic church, marry a Catholic girl…

Then the guilt I feel towards my ex wife and putting her through that, in terms of my relationship with him. There’s a scene in the play after a dinner, me and my wife are talking and she says to me, was it just me or was he being a little bitchy to me tonight.

Ex-wife: Is it me or was Pete being kind of, I don’t know, bitchy to me tonight?
Joe: No..
Ex-wife: …at times he tries to get me to look dumb, makes fun of me a little too much
Joe: He’s joking around.
Ex-wife: It makes me uncomfortable…and it’s not the first time
Joe: He’s goofing with you, c’mon. I don’t know…he was just tired, really tired tonight.
Ex-wife: It’s like he’s jealous…
Joe: Of what?
Ex-wife: So you didn’t see any of that? It’s my imagination…

Because what Pete would do was he was jealous, and I could see before my eyes, he would do his best to make her uncomfortable especially when he started drinking.

In my mind I had an exit strategy how to get him out of my life. Once I got married and that obligation was done, I would distance myself. But the problem is he’s still friends with the family. He’s still there.

Ex-wife: I’ve been talking to my therapist…
Joe: What? Your shrink? About me
Ex-wife: Well for myself but of course I talk about you, us and she says that you are emotionally unavailable
Joe: Oh so a shrink can tell you what’s wrong with me, without meeting me, talking to me? So you spend the time talking about me, you should worry about yourself, emotionally unavailable, I mean what the hell does that mean?
Ex-wife: It means that you are so caught up in yourself that emotionally you cannot bethere for someone, like me
Joe: See I think I am emotionally available, because right now emotionally I’m pissed and it’s available to you.
Voice1: She was right…
Joe: (JOE looks at EX-WIFE) I know…

(City of Angels: There is a scene in the play where he uses the sounds of all the voices talking at once. You can hear it. You can envision it. The words are the kinds of words actors like to wrap themselves around.

In scene below, we see how 'For Pete's Sake' portrays the confusion created by sex crimes of Catholic priests:)

Voice3: Open your eyes he’s trying again, get up you have to go!
Joe: Pete, I gotta go!
Voice3: Just get to your car! Go down the stairs, through the rectory, out the door, get to your car,
Voice1: Pete is following behind, tell him you have to get home!
Joe: I have to get home
Voice2: You let it happen again,
Voice3: Just go, this is embarrassing, Say goodbye but be polite,
Joe: Goodnight Pete, thank you!
Voice2: You can end it here!
Voice1: Stop saying that!
Voice2: Wrapped around a pole in Jersey.
Joe: Just tell one person
Voice2: End it all here and you won’t have to tell anyone!
Voice1: Tell someone
Joe: Who can I tell?
Voice3: Please slow down!
Voice2: Keep the secret
Voice1: Tell someone
Voice3: Slow down!
Voice2: Keep it, keep the secret, keep it, keep the secret
Voice1: Tell someone, tell someone, tell someone
Voice3: Slow down, slow down, slow down
(MOM enters, JOE gets up from chair to greet his MOM)
Joe: Mask on. (beat) Hey mom
Mom: How was your night?
Joe: Good
Mom: How was dinner?
Joe: Good
Mom: How’s Pete?
Joe: Good, good to see him, always fun

The first person I told was my ex-wife. We, our relationship- I was in no position of being in a relationship, I had so much stuff that I had to deal with and I couldn't do that to someone. I couldn't be a supportive person, I couldn't be a partner. Until I dealt with it like I'm doing now, dealing with my own crap, how can I be there for someone else.

Ex-wife: Are you okay?
Voice1: Stop being afraid
Joe: No… I’m not okay,
Voice2: You’re just as guilty
Ex-wife: Why, what’s wrong?
Voice1: Tell her
Joe: …I don’t know
Ex-wife: Maybe you should go stay with Pete for a little while.
Joe: No…
Voice1: The truth. Say it!

As an actor when you have those moments that you do it, you make someone laugh or cry, you also have the feeling of being heard and listened to, it’s a drug that thing that gets you, makes you feel alive.

Monsignor Cheplic got a better deal than I did. He’s got his full pension, his benefits, nobody knows where he is living today.

That's so funny, they say since he’s retired, they don't have to be accountable for where he is.

(EX-WIFE exits)
Voice3: You are emotionally unavailable.
Joe: I know!
Voice3: You had nothing to give
Joe: I know that now, I haven’t had one honest relationship
Voice3: Well what do you expect, the last time you opened up to someone he…
Joe: I need to learn how to trust.
Voice1: Give it time.

PERFORMANCES of For Pete's Sake
Often benefit Road to Recovery

"I credit Bob Hoatson Hoatson with really saving me, saving my life," Capozzi said. "When I came out with what happened to me, I was like, now what do you do, who can you trust. When I told my family, actually my brother put me in touch with SNAP in New Jersey, and then Pat Serrano from SNAP in New Jersey who’s just been an incredible supportive trusting woman, put me in touch with Bob Hoatson.

"I talked with him one night and next day met with him. He had information, he knew of Cheplic, and knew of past abuse allegations about Cheplic.

"When I came forward, Bob Hoatson already knew a history of Cheplic. So when I went public, Hoatson was very supportive, I put my name out there. I didn't trust just going to the archdiocese.

"Bob Hoatson was one of the first people who started to give that back to me. He guided me through the process of formally going to the church and to law enforcement to make record of my allegations. He would always call to check on how I was doing.

"Hoatson NEVER once asked me for anything. The church has put him through hell only because Bob wants the truth to be known and the church is afraid of the truth.

"When I started writing 'For Pete's Sake' I promised myself that if I ever presented the play to an audience Road to Recovery would benefit. Since the first reading in December of 2008, we have raised over $2000 and will continue raising money and awareness for Road to Recovery with the benefit readings of "For Pete's Sake" planned in the future."

CofA: In the last three years I’ve heard these stories from so many people. The MO these priests used is too similar for there not to have been some kind of communication - a network, yes, even a conspiracy - between the predator priests who stalked families throughout the United States in the last century and the bishops who enabled them. The problem of being crime victims who are also writers and artists is -

How do we explain the depth of the damage.

When someone sexualizes a person before adulthood, it affects them at the very core of their being. Add in the factor that the rapist is a clergy person with community wide credibility of being a man somehow connected to God - lines and lines of blog posts and newspaper articles, volumes of books still can’t capture it. It takes that spark of creativity, a lightning bolt to shock an audience awake.

Pete: So did you jerk off today?
Voice3: Oh crap here it comes
Joe: uhhm actually nope not today, like I’ve told you before, not really into that…
Voice2: Liar!
Pete: I’m just wondering,
Voice1: You don’t have to tell him!
Joe: I really don’t. It’s a sin isn’t it? I don’t want to go blind.
Pete: Oh come on… what do you guys do nowadays?

In “For Pete’s Sake” by Joe Capozzi you ride a roller coaster - fly parabolas in a test aircraft - experience excitement rage hilarity despair - a lot like a day in the life of an adult victim of a pedophile priest. A reading of the play is tentatively on calendar for a location in Manhattan Dec. 5.

Joe: I thought, just be quiet.

Don’t be a troublemaker.

But no one hears John Doe

View Capozzi's video

Read more about Cheplic by Looking Under C in the data base of accused priests at Bishop Accountability

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Anonymous said...

From the book, The 33 Doctors of the Church, by Father Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen
Page 52: In a section titled “Poet and Friend”, “In a letter reflecting on the joys of their days of prayer and work together at Pontus, St. Gregory wrote to St. Basil: ‘I breathe you more than the air; and I am only alive when I am with you, either in your actual presence or by imagination in your absence.’”

Saint Ambrose
Page 79: In a section titled “Close to God and Man”, “St. Ambrose was very mortified and austere. He recommended the consecration of human affection to Christ through virginity. Yet at the same time he had an extraordinary love for children, and the warmest of affections for his brother and sister. In his later years he brought up the three grandchildren of a friend, maintaining them in the episcopal residence.”

Saint Jerome
Page 92: In a section titled “Deep Friendships” in a letter to his friend, “Believe me brother, I look forward to seeing you more than the storm-tossed mariner looks for his haven, more than the thirsty fields long for the showers, more than the anxious mother sitting on the curving shore expects her son.”

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Page 289: In a section titled “A Man of Strong Friendships” in a letter to a much younger man, “Unhappy man that I am who have not you by me, who cannot see you, who am obliged to live without you for whom to die would be to live, and to live without whom is no better than death! So I do not ask why you left me. I only grieve that you do not return; I do not blame you for going away; I only blame you for not coming back … No doubt it may have been my fault that you left.”

Anonymous said...

Can you spare a nickel for the poor box, brother?