PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Anthony Hughes has seen himself as two people.
The adult Anthony is 46, lives in Queens, is happily married, is the father of a 12-year-old daughter, and runs his own plumbing company.
Then there is Anthony the little boy from a poor family in Brooklyn. He was sexually abused in separate contacts with people he trusted — a public school teacher and a priest.
Now Hughes has the reputation of a diligent advocate for sexually abused victims. He is among a half-dozen conscientious people who suffered the same trauma but now serve on the Survivors Advisory Committee for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The diocese invited Hughes to represent this victims-and-survivors community at the installation of Bishop Robert J. Brennan on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
“I am honored to be invited to represent us survivors,” he said the day before the installation. “It is a big, big thing for us.”
Included in that community of “us” are the two versions of Hughes, but merging those beings into one person took a long time because, for many years, adult Hughes detested the little boy.
“I was angry with him for not opening up his mouth when he/I should have,” Hughes said. “Now, he and I are friends. We both understand each other. We’re on the same page.
“But it wasn’t an easy ride. We’ve been on the biggest roller coaster ride ever.”
A Price Paid by a Child
Poverty set the stage for the trauma Hughes would suffer as a boy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
His mother struggled financially after his stepfather died. A priest at their parish became a father figure to Hughes and his siblings. They thought his care was “God’s saving grace,” Hughes said.
“But,” he recalled, “ultimately, (the priest) had different ideas. You know, I think maybe half of his ideas were doing God’s work, but then something snuck up on him to do the devil’s work, which was to abuse me.”
The schoolteacher had a similar method.
“When we were homeless, he went out and bought a co-op for us, and we paid him rent,” Hughes said. “But there was a price to be paid, and that price was to abuse a little boy.”
Hughes said he felt shame and feared no one would believe a priest or a teacher would inflict such trauma on a kid.
He resolved to forget about it and looked for diversions like hanging out with friends and sports. In his early teens, he left school to help support his family with a full-time job.
By his 20s, Hughes’ faith grew as he stayed active with the Church, and even joined the Knights of Columbus. But the trauma was unresolved.
“One day something just clicked,” he said. “It hit home, and that was it. I stumbled and I veered from the Church.”
But later his faith also clicked, so he went back to church, seeking help.
Still, his boyhood fears became all too real when he tried to tell priests about what one of their fellow clergy members had done to him, but no one believed him.
“Now I was really discouraged,” he said. “But I kept saying, ‘This just can’t be God doing this.’”
Meanwhile, in 2002, a movement began in the Church.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting in Dallas, unanimously called for a comprehensive “zero-tolerance” strategy to address sexual abuse allegations brought by children against clergy, teachers, and other laity in the Church.
Among those who voted for the so-called “Dallas Charter” was the sixth prelate of Camden, N.J., Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
In 2003, Bishop DiMarzio became the seventh bishop of Brooklyn, and Hughes began noticing changes in how sexual abuse was viewed in the diocese as the bishop set about implementing the Dallas Charter.
“I gave it one more shot,” Hughes said. “I went to see Msgr. Ed Ryan, (then) the pastor at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Ridgewood, Queens. And he was spectacular. He opened his door to me.”
Msgr. Ryan enlisted help from Sister Ellen Patrice, and together they counseled the troubled young man.
“They both sat there,” Hughes said, “and they both just listened. They listened to us, and by that I mean both me and the little boy inside me, crying for help. I broke down, and tears came running down my face.”
Survive and Thrive
Hughes continued in therapy. In time he found the confidence to help others and joined the Survivors Advisory Committee for the diocese, working with other former victims and Bishop DiMarzio.
They were subsequently joined by Jasmine Salazar, the diocese’s vice-chancellor who was recently promoted to oversee the diocese’s new Office of Protection of Children and Young People.
She said advisory committee members are diverse, with different cultural and economic backgrounds, but all with the common experience of having been abused as children.
Together, the committee carries the message that helps from the Church is available. They’re proof that victims can be survivors, and can learn coping techniques to help them acknowledge their pasts, yet still thrive.
The vice-chancellor praised Hughes for leading with a soft-spoken but clear voice.
“He melded well with the other survivors,” she said, “and he’s quick to be a bridge to newcomers.” She and Hughes both praised Bishop DiMarzio for leading their efforts, and now they’re eager to work with Bishop Brennan.
Discernment and Relationships
Likewise, the new bishop said, he is ready to work with them and, more importantly, learn from them.
“My first step is really discernment and human relations,” Bishop Brennan said at a news conference shortly before his installation. “It is to work with Jasmine a little bit to understand even better the good things that are happening here, and then to meet with the survivors.”
Together, Bishop Brennan said, they will learn what to do next.
“I think that the Church has taken great strides in these last 20 some odd years to provide a safe environment and to address those issues in the past, and to heal,” he added. “I want to be able to build upon that.”
Hughes said he hopes the Church could somehow help heal survivors who aren’t Catholic.
“I really want to extend this to whoever may have been abused,” he said, “because it goes unseen. But I think, at the end of the day, we need to turn to God and ask Him for help and guidance. Because I think that’s the only answer to this.”