"The only thing that I get to control is how I tell my story." – Gerad Argeros
Gerad Argeros, 46, says he was raped at age 11 by the Rev. James Brzyski at St. Cecilia's in Philadelphia. In these interview excerpts, he describes a lifelong struggle with trauma and grief, and why he is choosing to speak publicly for the first time. He unsuccessfully sued the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and testified secretly before the Philadelphia grand jury that in 2005 uncovered decades of local clergy sex abuse. Brzyski, it said, sexually assaulted possibly more than 100 young boys. Argeros says decades of therapy saved him from suicide.
He had kept quiet for years about being abused at the parish.
"To get through, I started the biggest lie of my life."
What was the lie?
"That nothing happened. That I just walked out of nothing. That I just walked out of church. … I remember when Oprah [Winfrey] came out and said she was sexually abused. I remember saying in my heart and in my body, 'That does not happen.' Cut to me running out of rooms screaming because I was convinced that everyone in the room was dead. When being in bed with a woman and her reaching around me in a particular way, and I would rip the room apart. … Waking up from dreams for years and years and years in a full rage. This is what kids have to do to survive. They have to disappear from themselves. And that becomes a habit."
On the criminal statute of limitations that prevented prosecutors from charging Brzyski:
"I'm still 'alleged.' I'm an 'alleged victim.' I'm alleged not because it didn't happen. I'm alleged because it's never seen the light of day in court. I'm still a guy with a story. That's all I am."
He buried memories of the abuse until his late 20s when, living in New York City, he saw a movie, Happiness, about an upper-middle-class professional who was secretly a pedophile.
"For the first time in my life I saw it framed exactly as someone should have framed it from the beginning. This guy [Brzyski] groomed me, brought me in, and then he shut the door behind me and I was trapped. And he wasn't just doing it to me, he was doing it to as many people as he could — but I didn't know that. I walked out of that theater, I went home, and in a haze, I lived on 14th Street in the East Village, I dialed Philadelphia Information and I called the St. Cecilia's rectory. And I said I need to speak to somebody who's in charge. She said, 'You have to tell me what this is about first.' I said, 'I was raped in that room right next to where you're sitting by Jim Brzyski in 1983 or 1982.' "
Memories have tormented him through adulthood.
"I know what it's like to be alone with this beast. To be trapped in a room with this guy. You never get out of that room. This thing lives with you. … This guy poisoned my body. This man set me on fire. And I'm still on fire."
"I'm so exhausted from the amount of work that I've had to do to have a life. From dragging myself out of bed when I am desperately gutted by this s—. I'm 46 years old. I went to George Washington University. I was a smart guy. And I couldn't hold a job down because I would get so depressed. And the one thing that I will tell you is that I've gotten really good at working my ass off to keeping myself out of the gutter. And it is not easy. It is not easy. When I dragged myself to therapy I did it to save my own life. I knew I was going to kill myself. I was in so much pain and I was so unspeakably alone."
He sees it as more than his own problem.
"Everybody had to own that there was a man in the midst of a thousand children who was abusing them, molesting them and sexually assaulting them and raping them. People had to know. He lived on that compound. There were suspicions. If you tell me that there weren't, I can't agree with you. But nothing was said. Now, I was 11, 12 years old. If it was my job to come forward at that age, then it's all broken. But there were adults — and I'm not pointing fingers at anyone individually because I don't know what people knew. But somebody had to see something that didn't sit well.
"The fear and the shame and the community's identity couldn't hold that truth. Because then, what was our beautiful enclave of Fox Chase? That's where it all intersects and all goes wrong. Barbecues in the backyards and soccer games all weekend and basketball on the courts and the fair outside the hospital. It was a community that had an identity. It was safe. And we all understood each other and nobody was too rich and nobody was too poor. We all identified with each other and saw each other as a community. But what happens to that if there is this silence, that no one's addressing the fact that there's a monster that is in the church educating our kids, abusing our kids?"
"It just happened to be that I was the kid in the hot seat and not your kid. But this was something the entire community had to hold. If your kid did not get abused by this guy then you were lucky. But don't tell me that you did something better than my parents did."
He is hyper vigilant about his own children's safety.
"What I never planned on was having an 8- or 9 year-old son that is moving toward the age I was [when attacked by Brzyski]. And when I see him and I see how vulnerable he is, and I imagine that that was me at a 6 o'clock Mass and I was walking into a church and I was supposed to be safe and … this guy that they literally called the Prince Of The Church, our direct communication with God, this guy took me into a room and raped me. So every day I look at my kid … right on the cusp of when this happened to me. And it destroys me."
On why he is sharing his story:
"If there's one sentence that can come out of me that makes someone ask their child or a teacher or someone to look a little closer at something that they see that might be suspicious and say, 'This not your fault. This is not something you brought on yourself. This is a criminal, this is someone who is sick who needs to be monitored and imprisoned, if necessary.' Because nobody said a word. And everybody remained silent for so long."