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Terry Kohut
Teacher, survivor, and advocate

Terry Kohut was born in Chicago in 1950, and grew up in rural Elmhurst, Illinois, youngest of three sons of Dmytro ("Donald") and Barbara Kohut. He began his elementary-school education at St. Rita School for the Deaf in Cincinnat, then, when he was 10, transferred to St. John's School for the Deaf, St. Francis, Wisconsin, south of Milwaukee.

Terry's older brothers were Don, born in 1944, and Bob, born in 1947.  Don was a science buff, and Terry recalls how Don showed him how to photograph the moon through a telescope, and how to develop the photos.

In 1960, Don and a classmate, Walter, were electrocuted while rigging up a ham-radio antenna between two trees in a neighbor's yard. The two boys were standing on soggy ground, and the copper-wire antenna, weighted with a crescent wrench, made contact with an overhead 2,300-volt power line whose insulation had worn off. The neighbor had even complained to the electric company two weeks previously about the sparks being emitted by the line at night—but nothing had been done.

Donald Kohut suffered from chronic depression. Although he wasn't physically abusive, he drank a lot of vodka. Finally, Barbara persuaded him to see a psychotherapist, who told her that he was fine. When Don was 11, his father hanged himself in the basement of the family's house . . . and Terry found him.

Then, when he was 12, his beloved white German Shepherd, Chriissy, died of hypothermia. He was devastated.

Barbara had lost faith in psychologists, but not in priests and nuns. When she took Terry back to St. John's, she tearfully pleaded with Father Lawrence Murphy, the only fluent signer on staff, to take good care of Terry.

Murphy proceeded to molest him.

Terry lived in a nightmare—Murphy's nightly prowling of the Junior Boys' Dormitory, going from bunkbed to bunkbed to molest the boys, his use of the confessional for "sex education sessions," summoning boys to his office, obscenely exerting his power and dominance over them. It's believed that Murphy molested as many as 200 boys at St. John's. Terry was one of his unwilling victims.

But he survived, and after graduating in 1969, began shaping a life for himself. He earned his B.A. in Drama at Gallaudet College, and a Master's in Education at CSUN. He returned to St. John's as a part-time teacher and dorm counselor, working there from 1974 until St. John's closed in 1983. (Murphy had been transferred to Boulder Junction, 280 miles north, shortly after Terry was hired, so there were no uncomfortable confrontations between the abuser and his former victim.) Terry's students loved him—the way he dramatized his lectures, encouraged his studens to discuss politics, told of his travels to the "ancestral grounds" of the Soviet Union, and treated his students as equals. H e never mentioned his being molested—he kept that to himself.

Unable to find acting work in California, he took a teaching position at the John H. Kinzie School in Chicago, and also teaches ASL at Harper College in Palatine. He and wife Pam have been happily married for 21 years, and they have "two beautiful American Eskimo dogs."

In 1995, Terry sent Murphy a furious, gut-wrenching letter confronting him with his abuse and telling him exactly what he thought of him. (The letter is posted in Murphy's file on BishopAccountability.org.) He sent copies to Archbishop Weakland of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and Pope John Paul II. Murphy never responded. But Weakland invited Terry to testify at the canonical trial he was planning. The trial never took place. After Murphy pleaded with the Vatican to let him off on account of his poor health, the Vatican abated (froze) the proceedings. Murphy claimed to be frail and sick, but was well enough to play the casinos. Never defrocked or prosecuted, he died before any pastoral measures could be taken. He was buried with full priestly honors, which outraged his victims.

On April 22, 2010, Terry Kohut, as "John Doe 16," filed the first sex-abuse lawsuit against Pope Benedict XVI, alleging cover-ups among the highest echelons of the Vatican. (He revealed his identity after filing the suit through Jeff Anderson and Associates, a firm that has represented hundreds of victims of clerical sexual abuse.) He was interviewed on CNN's controversial documentary, What the Pope Knew, which aired on September 25. His story has achieved wide publicity. He is grateful to his friends, the Deaf Community, colleagues in SNAP (the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), and other survivors of Murphy's abuse for their support.

Whether he gets any kind of settlement from the Vatican, or any response, his act sends a clear message to the Church. Survivors of clerical sexual abuse are not going to remain silent. They have a right to come forward and demand justice and full discolure. Terry Kohut and the others want to see real action and real change, so that no more children will be at the mercy of molesters protected and shielded by their superiors. Until all children are safe from predators, the campaign continues.

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