At outset, privileged trips with his priest

22 years later, man tells authorities about abuse

May 23, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

In the early 1980s, the parish of St. John in Westminster was the center of life for the Irish Catholic family of John F. "Jef" Curran III.

"My grandfather was a member of the Knights of Columbus. My mother ran the Christmas bazaar for 10 years straight," he said.

Young Jef, a distant relative of state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., attended St. John School and played basketball for the parish from kindergarten through eighth grade. So his family had no hesitation when the friendly new assistant pastor, the Rev. Brian M. Cox, offered to take the boy swimming with him on weekends at Western Maryland College.

But the privileged outings with a trusted priest, Curran says, led to repeated sexual abuse that still torments him.

"There's really an emotional standoffishness I've experienced in my life," said Curran, 33, a North Carolina resident who recently sold his bottled water company and now sells industrial equipment. "You never trust anybody."

Cox was arrested yesterday and charged in connection with the allegations by Curran. He was being held at the state police barracks in Westminster last night.

Arriving at St. John in 1978, the charismatic priest was popular with the parish's youths. "He has a naturally attractive personality, very outgoing," Curran said. "Everybody loved Father Brian."

In 1980, when Curran was in the fifth grade, Cox started inviting him and some classmates to the pool at Western Maryland College, which had community swim days on the weekends. As spring turned into summer and the school year ended, Cox started taking Curran to the pool by himself during the week.

Curran recalls going to the pool with Cox as many as a dozen times over several months. After swimming, Cox would take Curran into the showers in the locker room, which were generally empty during the week. There, he masturbated the youth on at least four occasions, Curran says.

Curran says he didn't tell anybody about the abuse at that time. "But I do remember telling my mother - when he pulled up on one occasion when she was home - I told her, `I don't want to go with him. Tell him I'm sick or something,'" he said. "And I didn't go [swimming with him] after that."

Years later, in 1995, Cox was permanently removed from ministry and barred from performing Catholic sacraments after an allegation involving "inappropriate touching" of an adolescent boy 15 years earlier surfaced. The allegation was the talk of Westminster, but Curran, who was by then living in North Carolina, didn't hear about it.

When he and his pregnant wife were visiting Curran's mother in 1998, she informed him of Cox's removal from the parish.

"She mentioned the name [of the victim]; I didn't know him," Curran said. "But my heart just went to the pit of my stomach."

Later that day while driving to the supermarket on an errand, he told his wife, Julia, about the abuse for the first time. "I said, `You know what my mother was talking about? It happened to me,'" he said. "It's not something you really want to talk about."

Earlier this year, Curran was speaking to his sister on the telephone when she mentioned that she had seen Cox in Westminster. Curran, who had assumed that Cox had been imprisoned, was stunned.

He said he contacted the pastor at St. John, was referred to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and then went to the state's attorney's office in Carroll County.

After consulting with investigators from a sexual abuse task force, Curran agreed to wear a recording device and meet with Cox at Resurrection Farm, the homeless shelter the priest operates 10 miles outside of Westminster.

Curran first went to the farm on a Wednesday in mid-March, but Cox wasn't there. He left a message, and Cox called him back the next day.

"He asked me if I wanted to go swimming, of all things," Curran said. "I declined." He instead arranged to meet Cox at the farm.

"He denied doing anything to me, but I was not very assertive," Curran said. "Sitting there in front of him, I was like a kid again."

Curran asked to meet with him again the next week, telling Cox he was dissatisfied with their first meeting. "I kept asking, `Why did you choose me? Why did you touch me?'" Curran said. He said that Cox said he didn't remember the alleged abuse, but then as Curran described his torment, tried to comfort him.

"I said I didn't understand - `What did I do?'" Curran said. He said Cox replied: "It was nothing you did. You were just a victim."

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