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  • Woodrow Wagaman

I will stand my ground

I was sexually abused by Joseph Thornton during the summer of 2011. It should have been a really awesome summer; in July I was going to Spain and Portugal with my two aunts and, 'no school!' Instead it has become a defining turning point in my experience of life. I would like to tell the unabridged story here. If memories come back after the fact, I will include it future blog posts.

In Autumn of 2010, a thunderstorm hit Hanover, Pennsylvania on a Wednesday. I was early to my Boy Scout meeting and took shelter in the hallway of St. Matthew Lutheran Church. There I listened to the Bible Study being held in the other room, while the pastor talked about Adam and Eve. I had more than a usual interest in the topic of religion, and decided to arrive earlier next Wednesday in order to sit through the whole bible study.

A week from that day, I was sitting in the same spot, but too frightened to go in. This is a typical part of my nature, and a failing on my part that I still suffer from. If I had the guts to go in and pick my own seat, maybe it would have been different. Maybe not. To help me into the room, Dr. Glenn Leister invited me in. I later found out what a prominent man he was in the local community and am proud to have called him a friend. However he was not aware that a man he commonly sat with, and would sit me across from, was convicted of a 3rd degree sex assault almost 20 years prior.

Over the next several months I would sit down with my new found friends, eat some supper and attend bible study until it was time for my scout meeting to start. Joe was on me like fleas on a dog. Reflecting back, I shudder at what an opportunity I presented. Here was a young man, just entering puberty, unaccompanied by any adult and allowed to stroll around Hanover anywhere I wanted. To the outsider it must have appeared that I was a postcard picture of the neglected child, but nothing could be further from the truth. My family was sucked in along with me.

I remember distinctly a conversation I had with Joe where he said he talked to my Mom to see if he could mention sexual topics with me. I do not know where this was truth or an artful fabrication from a servant of the devil. This conversation would be held at his home, a subsidized housing complex in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania. The first time he tried to touch me, I forcefully tired to push his hands off of me, but he was insistent. He was clever enough to always sit uncomfortably close to me, blocking off any path of escape. This first time he only touched me through my pants. He would become more ambitious the second time.

The second time was similar set up, but instead of watching a homosexual movie on his laptop, we watched it on his TV. These were not pornographic in nature, but they could definitely be considered European. While a character in the film sang 'Moon River,' he undid my pants and fondled me through my underwear. This scenario with different movies occurred several times.

Once he got me back into his bedroom to talk there. I was very tense, and I am sure he knew not to push his luck. Once I remember him talking about how St. Paul only disliked homosexuals because he had a bad experience with an older-younger man scenario that was then common in Greco-Roman culture. I argued that such relationships were always wrong, and he seemed quite disappointed that I did not possess his enthusiasm for pederasts.

The final time occurred in late summer. This time it was during, "Lord of the Flies." He claimed the touching occurred to see if I got excited or not to men on men so he would know if I was gay or not. He stated that I had gotten an erection during "Lord of the Flies" and there was nothing sexual about it. I then rebuked him and said it was because he was touching me. The next Wednesday he asked to speak with me in the Church Parlor. There he stated that he had spent many guilt-ridden nights about our experiences together and asked for my forgiveness. I granted it to him.

In October his wife, who had advanced Alzheimer's, died. Myself and another boy were personally picked by Joe to be the altar servers at her funeral. The entire Thornton family was there. Every single one of them had to know about Joe's 1991 conviction, and not one said a word to either of our mothers, who were both present. The entire family is unspeakably evil.

Since I knew the abuse was (likely) over, I decided to protect the other children and lead him along for as long as I could. I figured I was already broken, why break someone else? I finally quit speaking to him sometime around 2013. In December of 2013 I left Boy Scouts, in January I ran away from home on the coldest night of the year. After so much awfulness, a moment of sun came through in my confirmation into the Catholic Church on April 19th, 2014. This was a day of jubilee. However, it was made quite clear to me that it would be the right thing to do to invite Joe Thornton to the pomp and circumstance. On the night of my confirmation, I exchanged the sign of peace with my abuser. At the reception that followed he sat in a window seat, watching me. Little did I know that this image would be his role in the rest of my life, constantly hovering behind me.

I can't stand to write anymore. I hope that some of the pain that I feel comes through the words. I also hope that these words can help people understand why I am so angry with the Lower Susquehanna Synod. Please pray for me, that I may have some peace.

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