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"They murdered something in me": Pennsylvania priest sex abuse survivors share stories

Victims of PA priest abuse speak out
Victims of sex abuse by Pennsylvania priests share their stories 05:16

The first Pennsylvania statewide investigation into abuses by Catholic priests is expected to be released any day now. The grand jury report details allegations against more than 300 priests in six dioceses, covering more than 1.7 million parishioners. Attorney General Josh Shapiro led the 18 month-long investigation.

CBS News' Nikki Battiste spoke with several victims who are sharing their stories for the first time. Survivors and their families tell us they've suffered through decades of trauma, and believe the report's release will be an important milestone in their fight for justice.

Shaun Dougherty, Juliann Bortz, Jim Vansickle, Mary McHale, James Faluszczak and Judy Deaven are among the more than one hundred people who spoke to the Pennsylvania grand jury. Their stories fill a nearly 900-page report.

Shaun Dougherty, Juliann Bortz, Jim Vansickle. CBS News

Battiste asked the group when their abuse began, and they said it ranged from when they were 10 to 18.

"My son was 15 when it started," Deaven said. "His hell was right here on earth."

Deaven says the death of her son Joey three years ago can be traced to what happened to him as a teenager.

"Because of the way he was, and I'm not gonna say abused, I'm gonna say the way he was raped, at age 17, his back was injured. There was nothing they could do surgically. And because of the pain medication, his death was caused by an accidental overdose," Deaven said.

"The word 'abuse' gets thrown around," said Bortz. "We're talking rapes."

Juliann Bortz and Mary McHale both say they were molested by priests at their Catholic high schools.

"My abuser, when he took his collar off, he told me that he could do whatever he wanted to do," McHale said. "I believed him. Yeah."

"The collar is still a trigger for me," Bortz said. "They murdered something in me. Something died. Everything I believed, died."

Battiste asked the group if they believed at the moment of their interview, a child was being abused by a priest. They all raised their hands.

"It appears that there's something in the DNA of the church that encourages this," said Faluszczak.

Mary McHale, James Faluszczak and Judy Deaven. CBS News

He says he witnessed the church's secrecy and sex abuse cover-ups first hand, not only as a victim, but also during his 18 years in the priesthood.

"I felt called to be a priest and it was almost as if it was a completely separate issue," he said. "As I made my way through ministry, it became very clear to me that this was a systemic issue. Almost like a contagion, that this was an epidemic."

Jim Vansickle claims his high school English teacher, Rev. David Poulson, groomed and sexually assaulted him from 1979 to 1982. He came forward this year, after learning Poulson is facing trial on criminal charges for abusing two other boys in the early 2000's. He says his case falls outside the statute of limitations.

"I don't have the right to do that, because he's protected by law, as a predator," Vansickle said.

"How does that make you feel?" Battiste asked.

"Anger. Frustration," he said. "You finally get to a point where you're willing to say 'It's time for me to come and get you,' and the law says, 'Sorry, you're abused, but eh, we're gonna protect the predator here.'"

Poulson's attorneys tells CBS News he "is entitled to the presumption of innocence" and is "saddened by the allegations" against him.

Every person Battiste interviewed said they think the statute of limitations should be eliminated.

"My statute of limitations ended for my abuse but to me they're re-abusing me right now," Dougherty said.

"I want the right to stand in court and face my abuser," Vansickle said. "Just to have him go through the court process, tell my story, make him listen to me. I would say to him 'Why did you do this to me?' And I believe his answer is gonna be, 'Because I can. Because I could.'"

The survivors and Deaven all say they are no longer practicing Catholics. Many of the priests accused in the grand jury report have died or retired. The Pennsylvania bishops insist they do not oppose the release of the report. Several have already published the names of accused priests and apologized to victims.

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