'I knew I was safe'

Man blames part of troubled life on Father Des McGrath

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on November 30, 2009

Second in a two-part series

Paul Vivian says his nightmares stopped after Father Des McGrath died this summer.

"(I felt) an enormous sense of relief," the Corner Brook native says. "And I went for a walk by myself outside of my house around the block for the first time in 10 years. I knew I was safe."

Vivian, who has lived in Toronto since the mid-'80s, says he was sexually abused by the priest as a teenager in the late 1970s and early '80s on the west coast of Newfoundland.

Second in a two-part series

Paul Vivian says his nightmares stopped after Father Des McGrath died this summer.

"(I felt) an enormous sense of relief," the Corner Brook native says. "And I went for a walk by myself outside of my house around the block for the first time in 10 years. I knew I was safe."

Vivian, who has lived in Toronto since the mid-'80s, says he was sexually abused by the priest as a teenager in the late 1970s and early '80s on the west coast of Newfoundland.

McGrath was found dead in his Stephenville garage at the end of July. His body was discovered a day after he failed to appear in court to answer to sex-related charges.

The offences were alleged to have taken place in the early '80s and to have involved an 11-year-old boy.

The priest - renowned in the province for having helped create the fishermen's union, and for his humanitarianism - was never found guilty of abusing Vivian.

However, in late 2007, Vivian and the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. George's reached a $250,000 settlement on the matter.

Vivian maintains the money wasn't important to him, that he just wanted to stop his abuser from harming anyone else.

Listening to him, there's no doubt he's suffered.

A psychiatrist's note prepared for Vivian's resolution hearing with the church outlines his many problems.

The now 44-year-old has a number of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, agoraphobia (afraid to leave his house) and possibly multiple personality disorder.

He also has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and has been unable to work for a number of years.

While he doesn't hold McGrath responsible for all that has gone wrong - people have to take some responsibility for their lot in life, he notes - Vivian says the priest and abuse greatly intensified his issues and problems.

He says his life was somewhat troubled after the abuse ended, but it really started unravelling in Toronto, where he moved after a couple of years of university studies.

Vivian says he and an old friend from home went to meet McGrath at a hotel room when the priest was visiting the Ontario city.

He recalls panicking when he got there and then fleeing the hotel.

He says he kept on running.

Unfortunately, it was the start of regular run-ins with something else - illusions of his abuser.

McGrath, he says, began haunting him in nightmares and almost everywhere he went.

"That's when I would see him on street corners," Vivian says. "It's when I stopped going out. It's when I developed a fear of leaving my apartment. It's when my drug and alcohol abuse hit high gear."

Vivian says his main vices were booze and cocaine.

"I'm sure I would have tried anything," he says. "Those were the two I had access to."

He says he also became involved in harmful and physically abusive relationships.

Looking back now, Vivian has a simple explanation for his recklessness.

"I wanted to be hurt," he says.

At times, it appears he didn't only want to harm himself, he wanted to die.

He says he tried taking his life a couple of times and came very close at least once.

He says the ghosts of the abuse crept into every aspect of his life, especially relationships.

Vivian says he would be despondent to others and had an inability to feel affection.

For the first nine years he was with his husband, he says he "would wake up screaming and often punch him the face before I realized where I was."

Vivian says the blackouts, related to his multiple personality disorder, would last hours, sometimes days. He would find himself in his car at different places with no memory of going there.

"And I would come home with bloody knuckles like I had been in a fight, even though I had no recollection of how I had gotten them," Vivian says, adding he started to seizure if he talked about McGrath.

He says he saw grief counsellors and psychologists for years, but made little progress.

"My life was miserable," Vivian says. "It was. It was just miserable."

But that misery loved company.

In 2004, The Toronto Star ran a story during the federal election campaign that lauded McGrath, who was running in Burin-St. George's for the New Democrats.

He says the article resulted in two suicide attempts and spun him way out of control.

"I liked to believe up until that point that (McGrath) was dead," Vivian said last week.

"When I read the article and realized he was still out there going, things got much worse very quickly. ... Everything escalated. I would disappear for three days at a time and have no memory of where I was."

Concerned loved ones encouraged Vivian to get closure by pursuing legal action against McGrath.

He did, and says his testimony and the evidence he presented resulted in the 2007 deal.

He says the settlement achieved his goal of getting McGrath removed from active service, but it did little to slay his demons (although he says he started being able to feel affection and also began seeing results from counselling).

The priest's death, Vivian says, has done a lot more to ease his pain.

Optimistic sharing his story will help the healing - as well as others who've been abused - he says his physical and mental health have improved since July.

Vivian says he owes a lot to his husband and in-laws.

They've stood by him throughout his lengthy and dangerous ordeal, he says, showing him strength, support and love.

Besides there being no more nightmares, Vivian says he no longer sees the priest on street corners and his fear of going outside has dissipated.

McGrath can't hurt him now, he says.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com