25 June 2010
Posted By JOHN VESSOYAN , TRIBUNE STAFF
Michael Blum is not alone, nor does he feel alone.
In his corner are his boys, his wife, relatives and friends — the ones who bring happiness and peace to his life.
He enjoys volunteering in the community, gardening and helping his wife, Gina, with her artwork, and he often smiles when talking about those people and those things.
But his mood changes when discussing or thinking about Donald Grecco, a man he wants to forget.
Blum was 14 when he was sexually abused by Grecco, a former priest at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Cayuga, and the morbid memories still hurt the lanky man.
Grecco is waiting to be sentenced at the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton on July 16 after pleading guilty to three counts of gross indecency for abusing three teenaged altar boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
The emotional effects of the abuse Blum suffered are still with the 46-year-old. He shakes so badly he has difficulty holding a glass of water or a cup of coffee and has a burning sensation in his chest, which is fueled by anxiety and stress. Years ago when the pain escalated, he wanted to die and thought of ways to kill himself.
All of these problems are because of what Grecco did to him, Blum says.
Grecco, who also served as a pastor at St. Kevin’s Church in Welland, St. Thomas More Church in Niagara Falls and St. Alexander Church in Fonthill, befriended Blum’s mother at the time and asked her if the young boy could help him paint the parish hall at the Cayuga church. Blum was allowed.
Grecco was an opportunist and a predator, and the boy was his prey, the victim says.
“It gave him the ability to be alone with me,” Blum said during a recent interview at his home.
“That’s when he would molest me.”
Blum says Grecco would forcefully plant the teenager on a couch, unzip his pants, fondle the boy’s private parts and deliver a humping motion until he ejaculated. This r about four months during which Blum didn’t try to stop Grecco.
Finally after about five incidents, Blum showed resistance and that deterred Grecco from carrying on with the abuse.
Blum kept the abuse secret until about six years ago when he started to disclose his awful experience — he was tired of hiding and believed he had to speak out.
“For me it’s coming to the realization that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t my fault. I’m sick of hiding, there’s got to be a face to the name for people who are coming out after me,” Blum says.
“You live with guilt, wishing that you would have come forward sooner, because it could’ve stopped — it could’ve stopped other things that had happened by Grecco. It’s something you try to keep buried and go on with life. The older I got the more it started bothering me.”
After telling a family member in 2004, Blum went to St. Michael’s Church in Dunnville to speak with Father Michael Andrysiak. Blum told him what had happened and Andrysiak listened.
“He was very helpful and he was very saddened by what I told him,” he says.
However, Blum says he was unsatisfied with subsequent meetings with other church officials.
“They basically said there was nothing they could do about it and that they would pray for me. Nothing else was mentioned, nothing else was said. That wasn’t a good answer for me. That was very bothersome to me. It took me a lot to go to the church because it was bothering me quite a bit since probably 2004 — it was really starting to eat me up.”
The year 2004 was the final time Blum attended church. He doesn’t plan to return — at least not anytime soon.
“I’ve lost faith in the Catholic Church. Have I lost faith in spirituality? No I haven’t. That comes from a strong conviction from Gina. As far as the Catholic Church goes, I don’t really hold a lot of respect for them right now. I respect certain individuals in the church, I respect Father Michael, I respect some people who are in the church community who are supporting me emotionally.”
In 2008 when criminal charges were laid against Grecco, a St. Catharines native, a publication ban was in place to protect all three victims who came forward. On June 3, when Grecco was originally scheduled to be sentenced, the ban was lifted on two of the victims — Blum and James Hennessy, a former altar boy at St. Kevin’s in Welland.
Deciding to release his name was a good move, says Blum, who provided police with a three-and-a-half hour video statement about three years ago as evidence in the abuse case.
“The lifting of the (publication) ban has been empowering. Me being able to read my victim impact statement was good — it was helpful for me. I still think about it quite a bit, not as bad as it used to be.”
Blum now lives from court date to court date, waiting for this ordeal to be finished and hoping July 16 will be the final time he visits Hamilton’s courthouse. March 25, when Grecco pleaded guilty, was the first time Blum had seen the ex-priest since he was 19 years old, at his mom’s funeral.
Upon seeing Grecco inside the court room almost three months ago, Blum says he felt fury as he held on tight to his wife’s hand for support.
“When I saw him on March 25 I became angry. I had absolutely zero sympathy for him,” he says.
Grecco’s sentencing has been delayed because his defence attorney Brian Donnelly told the court his client has health problems that have to do with “bleeding” and a medical examination is needed.
Blum and his wife plan to be in Hamilton for the sentencing next month. Until then, and perhaps well after, closure and forgiveness will have to wait.
“I’m not at the point of forgiving right now, not at all. Will I forgive him some day? I may. But right now I do not forgive him.”