As a boy, the teenager idolized Maurice J. Blackwell, the smooth-talking Seminarian with an Afro, a dashiki and swagger.
It was the 1960s, and the teen was stuck in a troubled home in Baltimore where his parents tied him up and beat him with extension cords. The charismatic priest in training came to the rescue, often allowing him to stay overnight. But the caresses and hugs soon turned into sexual contact, the boy would report to authorities many years later.
By 2002, that boy had become a 47-year-old man living in Louisiana, and I was sent by The Post to track him down after Blackwell, who was defrocked by the pope, was shot by another young man who said he had been abused by the priest. The man I found was still tortured by the pain of what had happened to him in Baltimore all those years ago.
“I knew it wasn’t supposed to be,” he said during a two-hour conversation. “But I didn’t know what to do. Once it happened, what do I do? Who would I tell?”
He said his liaisons with Blackwell in rectories across Baltimore continued for more than a decade. His emotions were raw. He was tormented by the fact that what started when he was a teen continued into adulthood. His tears came often and with little warning. He had three ex-wives and two sons.
Pain and confusion were etched on his face. That is the face I recalled as I read the details outlined by prosecutors in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. Sandusky is accused of showering and giving and receiving oral sex from the eight victims. And assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that he saw Sandusky in 2002 assaulting a boy who appeared to be 10 years old.
As the details of the Sandusky case emerge, my mind keeps returning to the man I interviewed, who as a boy was left alone in the dark with someone who had fed, clothed and rescued him and then decided that gave him license to coerce and, in my estimation, sexually assault a minor. When I read the allegations of rape in the shower, I see a face. I see a boy who needed an adult to help him.
Instead a grown man of 28 allegedly ran away. The next day, he told his supervisor, the perfectionist, the humanitarian, the man who always proclaimed that there was only one way: the right and moral way. And that man, Joe Paterno, passed the buck by telling his supervisors. They all did the minimum. And if the allegations are proven true, they all failed that boy in the shower and all the other boys who are now part of this human tragedy. Sandusky appears to have a problem, and for that he should surely pay with imprisonment for the rest of his life.
In a chilling national television interview on NBC, Sandusky admitted regret over his actions. “I have done some of those things,” he told interviewer Bob Costas. “I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their leg without intent of sexual contact.”
Sandusky, clearly in a state of delusion, paused clumsily on the question of whether he was attracted to underage boys and denied sexual contact. His regret? “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids,” he said.
No, Mr. Sandusky, you should not have!
I am confident, at a minimum, that Sandusky will be punished.
But what is the punishment for looking away, for knowing that a monster was possiblyat bay, preying on little children. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church continually moved its monsters around to other parishes. At every stop, we learned, those troubled priests continued to use their power and authority to molest boys.
At Penn State, too many adults shirked their responsibility.
“What happened at Penn State indicates that, at a certain point, folks started thinking about systems and institutions and didn’t think about individuals,” President Obama said in response to a reporter’s question this week.
We are all too often guilty of looking away from the messy and too quick to turn our attention to the so-called healing process and away from the victims. We tell them to move on and, after a while, to just get on with their lives.
An attorney for one of the Penn State victims told the Associated Press the victims saw the students rioting in the street: “The victims may have associated that negative response as siding with certain people in this case and not siding with them.”
May this be a lesson to us all.
There are children tonight who are lying in the dark wondering when their abuser will strike again, and hoping that a responsible adult with come to their rescue.