Providence Journal Reporter Tells His Own Collateral Abuse Story

Church 2In the 1970’s, Providence Journal reporter Bruce Desilva got a call from a distraught mother. She said that her 10-year-old son had been repeatedly molested by a Catholic priest. Desilva met with the mother and her son, heard their story, and went to his editor.

At the time, Desilva was a young reporter who loved his job. He was working in Rhode Island, arguably the most Catholic of states in the nation. But he had listened to the boy’s story and believed him.

Desilva’s editor wasn’t persuaded. He dismissed the story, telling the reporter that the paper wouldn’t slander a priest. Desilva argued with him until finally the editor subtly threatened him with the loss of his job, possibly his profession.

Desilva reluctantly abandoned the story.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Catholic Church sex abuse even started to surface in Rhode Island, when another priest was charged with five counts of sexual assault on teenage boys. Two more decades passed before the floodgates opened and numerous priests were accused of molesting children, including a former bishop.

Looking back on his “everlasting regret” of not trying harder to uncover the story in the 1970s, Desilva describes his emotions in Crux Now:

 . . . I was transported back to that Providence tenement house, felt the eyes of that woman and her son on me, and I was deeply ashamed. Their names are lost to me now, but for years, I’ve often thought about them – and about all the other kids who were molested during the decades when nobody, including me, was doing anything about it.

What of that priest the woman and her son told me about? Was he ever brought to justice? I don’t know. My notes were discarded decades ago, and I no longer remember his name.

To this day, I study every fresh report about predatory priests in the hope that I might recognize it if I see it again. Sometimes, I find myself wondering if my old editor does the same. He’s an old man now, and there’s no point in burdening him with my shame.

Sexual abuse of children leaves a torrent of destruction, hopelessness, shame, and misery in its wake.  The collateral damage has no bounds.  We are all affected by it.


Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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