R.I.P Gary Hayes, Victim, Advocate, Priest

There is sad news this morning. Father Gary Hayes, the very first Roman Catholic priest to ever speak out publicly about his childhood molestation by priests, has passed away from cancer. Here’s a nice tribute written by David Clohessy.

I met Gary at the Second Linkup National Conference in 1993. He was a big teddy-bear of a man with a truly kind heart; patient with all victims, even those who distrusted him because of his vocation. When he spoke, it agonized him to talk of his abuse but he did so with honesty and courage. Like many of us, he was always quite sparse with details due to the obvious pain relating them caused. I just knew that he, like me and so many others, had been abused as an altar boy. And I was aware that he had depended upon his perpetrator, Fr. Joseph F. McGarvey, to get into the priesthood and that the man was still alive when Gary sued and how that troubled him. But I never knew, for instance, that he was abused by two pastors who had been involved in setting him and several other boys up to be available when desired.

Gary Hayes fully paid the price for daring to speak out and sue the Church he served. His brave action was futile, thrown out of court though he did get a settlement later. Worse, as he knew it would, Gary’s defiance completely blighted his promising clerical career – he took an assignment in Kentucky just to get away from his past – the diocese of Camden, New Jersey where he was from being one of the most corrupt and perp-infested in the entire country – to quietly serve his God and God’s people. The only posts left open to Gary were rural churches spread out through the wilds of Appalachia, when the bishops were willing to grant him even that. But he never complained.

Father Hayes served as the last president of Linkup after it had been pretty much been been already tottering on its last legs. The group had bought a farm that was intended to serve as a retreat for victims but never did and was unsustainable. The organization’s demise was not Gary’s fault; he had been unwilling to volunteer but stepped up when nobody else would and he was unable to save things.

Gary Hayes inspired other priests to come forward too. He understood, just as I and Tom Economus did, just how difficult and conflicting it could be for other victims trying to relate to a priest. It is a unique and solitary burden to try to retain any faith – not to mention a vocation – when surrounded by suspicious leaders with absolute power, colleagues full of resentment and hostility, and lay people who go out of their way to avoid contact out of fear and embarrassment.

Just how isolated and lonely it made him is shown in the picture above of the poor send-off from the few people that attended his funeral. Gary Hayes deserved much more recognition and indeed the highest honors his Church could give.

God bless you, Father Gary. You truly were one of the good guys. Go in peace to your rest there with Tom and Barbara and so many others who fought the good fight. Oh good and faithful servant of Christ; your work is done.

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