25 Jun 2008

Wounds run deep for two-time abuse victim

Post-Bulletin, Minnesota
June 24, 2008

by John Weiss | Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Tom Mahowald spoke slowly, without emotion: "I'm a victim of abuse twice. Both were very violent."

He was an altar boy in a town near this region and when he was 14, the priest asked him to take some boxes into the basement. He pushed Mahowald into a room and locked the door. "I tried to push him away. I told him no. He told me God wanted me to do this for him. He raped me."

When Mahowald, who lives in Alma, Wis., and works in Winona County, tried to get away, the priest crushed one of his testicles.

"I was scared, petrified because he told me if I told, no one would believe me, he actually said God would be mad at me," he said. In 1961, Mahowald finally told a teacher at the Catholic school and she told an assistant pastor, who told him to not go to the police because all the boys and girls would know.

Mahowald told his story to church authorities, who said his story wasn't credible. "I was angry as hell. To me, that was worse than being raped, because I trusted those people to do the right thing."

Other altar boys heard about him talking. Mahowald said he was spit on, beat up and dumped down a window well. Oddly, those boys were probably also the priest's victims. "They were told this was something special, they really thought they were going to have a special place in heaven," he said.

One testicle never grew and the other was too big. "I became the laughing stock of the locker room. I was a physical freak. I never really forgot, I had a daily reminder when I showered."

Another rape

When he was 14, an English teacher tricked him into coming upstairs with him in his house. Mahowald thought he was safe because the teacher's wife was there. She left, and he was raped. This time, Mahowald was silent.

When other boys spoke out, the teacher killed himself.


The result was a bitter young man. "Any rule that was a rule, you broke it," he said. "I ended up self-destructing." He had idiosyncrasies, like wanting to sit with his back to the wall, mood swings, lack of intimacy, depression.

He married and kept his secret from his wife for 22 years. Then in 2000, stories about clergy abuse and shuffling abusing priests around instead of doing something began to surface. Mahowald spilled out his story to a co-worker. "He was crying before I got done," Mahowald said.

There was no going back.

He joined Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. He didn't want revenge, he wanted to talk with others who were abused. He found he wasn't alone.

Mahowald is haunted by those memories. His next step is education. "To me, it's educating the legislature, educating people," he said. And he's still bitter at the Catholic church. He came forward in 2002 and told his story; he was told it would be investigated. "They just put me aside and didn't do anything to help," he said.

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