Friday, October 3, 2003

Woman: Priest molested me, too


Male victims only half story

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Christy Miller addresses the media Thursday.
(Michael Snyder photo)
MASON - Christy Miller wants people to know that women can also be victims of sexual abuse by priests.

"Before all of this came out in the news, I thought I was the only one," she said Thursday at the Mason office of her attorney, Konrad Kircher.

Miller, 35, a married mother of two who lives in the West Chester Township area, became Greater Cincinnati's first woman to publicly allege being victimized by a priest's sexual misconduct.

Miller says the Rev. Thomas Brunner systematically gained her trust and sexually abused her from 1983 to 1985, while she was a freshman and sophomore at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading.

Kircher said he probably will use Miller's allegations to file a lawsuit against Brunner, who resigned two weeks ago from a church in Troy, Ohio. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has acknowledged that Brunner is among five priests with substantiated abuse allegations; three of the five involve female victims.

[IMAGE] During happier times (circa 1983 or '84), former Mount Notre Dame High student Christy Miller looked up to the Rev. Tom Brunner.
(Photo provided)
Barbara Blaine, president and founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), says there are more female victims of priests' abuse than most people realize. "That's probably the most underreported category of priest abuse," said Blaine, who notes half of SNAP's 4,500 members are male. "The cases involving the male victims get a lot more (news) coverage....but it's no less devastating when you're a girl than when you're a guy."

"It has taken me close to 18 years to publicly admit that I was sexually abused by a priest," Miller said. She's angry that it has taken the Archdiocese that long to publicly acknowledge the allegations against Brunner - and that, in the interim, he was allowed to continue working around children.

Dan Andriacco, Archdiocese spokesman, said the Archdiocese forbade Brunner from being alone with children some time after Mount Notre Dame's principal told the Archdiocese about the undisputed 1985 allegations from Miller (then known by her maiden name, Christy Lucidi) and another female student. Another accusation against Brunner, dating to the 1970s, was substantiated in 1989, Andriacco said.

Recent publicity about priest-abuse cases forced Miller to confront memories of the abuse. One moment from that time in her life was captured in a photograph: She's a smiling teen in a pink blouse, with an elbow propped up on Brunner's shoulder - an image that seems charming and sweet, until the story behind it is revealed.

"Then," Miller said, "it gives you chills to look at it."

Brunner was in his mid-30s. He was the school's religion teacher and leader of its music ministry.

Miller said she was "a slightly shy 14-year-old." A flutist, she joined the music group and began spending more time with the priest, who also consoled her after her brother became critically ill. Brunner took advantage of the situation to gain her trust and to increasingly control her life, Miller said. "He preyed on my weaknesses and innocence to pleasure himself."

She vividly remembers their first physical contact: Sitting behind his desk, he asked her for a kiss. "I said, 'I can't kiss you - you're a priest!" Miller said. But he brushed her concerns aside. Their relationship accelerated to include frequent telephone calls, social outings and "interludes" in his bedroom, the chapel and his office. "Wherever we were, there were stolen kisses and caresses," she said. "It seemed to be a challenge to him."

After 18 months, she put on the brakes. "I started to long for a normal life again," Miller said.

She said she kept quiet until she learned he was doing the same things with another student. Then she reported his conduct to the school principal. Brunner was soon reassigned.

Miller has lost faith in the Catholic church because she thinks church leaders covered up past abuse. "I don't think they can cover it up any more," she said.

Miller said she hopes her story will help her and other victims heal. More than that, she wants people who were not abused "to understand what the victims are coping with - and help us put an end to the abuse once and for all."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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