- A priest raped Sharan Falotico when she was 13.
- She's since tried to kill herself three times, spent
nine months in a psychiatric ward, and saw a marriage shatter. Years of
pent-up inner anger finally caused her body to deteriorate. Five years
ago, a doctor told her she didn't have long to live. Tubes connect the
65-year-old woman's nose to an oxygen tank.
- Falotico speaks slowly, so as not to run out of breath,
when she greets a timid visitor.
- "I don't mean to intrude on your life," the
visitor says apologetically.
- She pauses, places her hands together as if in prayer,
and measures her words. Her stare is palpable, penetrating. But it comes
with an unmistakable glimmer, a trace of something good. Perhaps,
- "I've waited 50 years for this," Falotico says.
And she begins to tell her story.
- It revolves around The Rev. Victor Ortino, who came to
the small town of Painesville, Ohio, in 1950, arriving on the Greyhound
bus driven by Falotico's father. Ortino, a heavyset Italian, was drawn
to the wavy-haired brunette, an outgoing, athletic eighth-grader at St.
Mary's Grade School. Besides being her Latin teacher, Ortino also became
her driver, taking her home from basketball practice in his new blue
- This went on for a month until one November evening when
he asked the girl if she wanted to drive the car. Falotico, who learned
to drive at age 9, was excited about the chance. She felt special.
- The priest drove her down a long, deserted dirt road
and stopped. The trees were bare and it was cold. She got behind the wheel.
There was silence.
- The priest leaned over and started kissing her cheek
- She gripped the steering wheel tight. Her knuckles turned
white. Her brown eyes widened.
- She was scared, confused, terrified -- paralyzed.
- "Please don't, please don't," was all she could
- "It's OK," he said. "It's OK."
- The rest of what happened that night is a blank.
she couldn't put the following months of abuse out of her mind, the rigid
attempts to keep her legs together in the back seat of that miserable car
before the priest pried them open.
- "Please God, make him stop," was her silent
- She couldn't tell her parents, she couldn't tell anybody.
They wouldn't believe her.
- "A priest was God's representative on earth,"
Falotico says above the soothing sound from her oxygen tank. "That's
what I'd always been taught."
- The once-gregarious little girl evolved into a dark soul.
Each day, as her Latin class would draw closer, she would put her head
on her desk, the one in the back of the room by the window, pulling her
arms over her head. Teachers asked what was wrong. What could she
- The shame was overwhelming.
- One night, two policemen pulled up on that deserted road,
and told the priest to get out of the car.
- "I'm saved, I'm saved," thought Falotico, who
was at once terrified and grateful.
- After inspecting Ortino's license, the officer pointed
the flashlight at Falotico in the backseat, and took a long look.
- "Can't he see I'm a kid," she thought, unable
to utter a word.
- "Don't let us catch you here again," the
said as he turned toward the police car. She couldn't believe they were
- "They had to know who he was," she says, still
with a tone of disbelief. "It was a small town."
- The rapes went on, at least once a week, until one day
The Rev. Thomas McMahon called her out of class and began to ask her
about Ortino, and about him driving her home.
- She wouldn't look at him. With her head down, she nodded
yes to each question, leading up to the final one.
- "Is he doing something sexually?"
- She nodded yes.
- McMahon let out of a bellow of curses that shocked her
enough to look at him.
- "You don't have to see him or go over there
- The physical abuse was over. Ortino was transferred to
a monastery. About five years later, McMahon called to tell her that Ortino
died in his sleep, and also that Ortino had molested a girl in
which caused his transfer to Painesville. McMahon was livid that bishops
in both dioceses knew about Ortino's history and had no one monitoring
- "This is what I cannot forgive," Falotico says,
her voice growing in intensity. "I just can't.
- "My anger at the hierarchy is so strong. The priest
raped my body, but they raped my integrity, my character. They knew about
it. How could they do this?"
- Her maturity level "frozen at 13," Falotico
had a baby at 18, and gave him up for adoption on the advice of a Catholic
Charities monsignor when she was 23 and struggling to avoid a life on the
- By her 30s, a rage welled inside her, one directed at
God for ignoring her prayers. She called the bishop's office in Pennsylvania
about Ortino. She confronted the assistant, and asked how the diocese had
allowed this to happen.
- His response?
- "It's my understanding that you seduced him,"
she recalls him saying.
- Falotico "felt raped all over again."
- Her anger began to fester and manifested itself into
Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare auto-immune disease that effects the
and circulatory systems. She stays at home and watches television,
the sex scandal in the Catholic Church, which has caused her anger to
and affected her health.
- She's also not convinced Pope John Paul II's recent
with American cardinals and proclamation of reform has much
- "I didn't see any victims at the Vatican,"
she says, before stopping to catch her breath.
- The conversation is over and Falotico, no longer a little
girl, is thankful for the chance to tell her story.
- "Nobody ever wanted to listen," she says.
ever wanted to know."
- E-mail David Kiefer at email@example.com