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Woman Says She Was Sexually Abused at Immaculate Conception School in 1970’s
55-year-old Leila Said Gutowski says she was abused by a teacher at Immaculate Conception School in Clarion when she was 12 to 13 years old.
exploreClarion.com recently spoke with her about the alleged abuse.
Gutowski, whose family was devoutly Catholic, attended Immaculate Conception school for several years in the early to mid-1970’s.
She said a new teacher that arrived at the school in 1974 began making advances toward her later that year. He started with letters of a sexual nature but soon escalated to physical acts. This abuse occurred on multiple occasions inside the school when the teacher would take her away from her classmates, often to a utility or locker room.
Gutowski said the teacher told her no one would believe her if she reported the abuse and pointed out the friendship he had built with her parents and other members of the community. He also threatened her with violence should she not keep their secret.
She said the abuse continued on a regular basis until her family moved away in 1976.
Getting away from the abuse may have saved her from further trauma, but Gutowski says a great deal of damage was already done.
“I became a loner after that. I went from being at the top of my class to just not having any lust for life anymore,” she said.
Though she feared retribution, she finally worked up the courage to report the abuse nearly a decade later. In December of 1984, after hearing rumors that the same teacher was abusing other children, she approached an administrator at the school to report what had happened to her.
The response she got was not what she was hoping for.
“She asked ‘What did you do to make him do that?'” Gutowski said. “He left the next day, though. No one talked about it, he was just gone.”
Gutowski said she also reported the abuse to local police around the same time but was told she was reporting past the statute of limitations for the crime, so little could be done.
Following the revelations of widespread abuse in Catholic churches in New England in 2002, Gutowski decided to try to reach out again in 2003. She said she spoke to a representative of the Diocese of Erie who she says told her “it would not be a good idea” to persist in seeking justice for her abuser.
Though the teacher had left the school, and apparently the Clarion area, Gutowski still remembered his threats and feared he might seek to harm her. She says lived in a state of constant anxiety until she got word of his death in 2011.
Though the man who abused her is gone, Gutowski says that the abuse and the teacher’s threats of violence still haunt her to this day.
“I still live in fear,” Gutowski said. “I suffer from PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and have spent most of my life in therapy.”
“I also lost a lot of faith. I couldn’t trust the church or the police. No one came forward. No one would help me.”
Officials from Immaculate Conception School confirmed that Gutowski was a student there from 1972 to 1976.
They also issued the following letter:
Dear Immaculate Conception Parish School Families:
As you may be aware, there have been recent reports in the media concerning allegations of sexual abuse presented in the 1970s against a teacher, now deceased, who was formerly employed at Immaculate Conception School. I am writing to assure you that we are working very closely with diocesan officials and have fully cooperated with law enforcement to review all pertinent records and files. Please know that the safety of your students is our top priority and that we have procedures in place to prevent such situations from occurring today. Please visit the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth for more information about the updated policy as well as additional steps the diocese has taken to address abuse.
Please know that the diocese, along with the whole church, continues to reach out to those who have been abused and hurt by priests, religious or others involved with the church and with our schools. If you are a victim of abuse, the diocese can assist aid with counseling and referrals to other supportive services. Information on how to report abuse or how to access other resources is detailed below.
Immaculate Conception Parish School
The Diocese of Erie released the following statement:
We are aware of an allegation of sexual abuse against the perpetrator. There is evidence in the diocese’s historical files suggesting that the allegation was brought forward to school personnel in the 1970s, to the police and school personnel in 1984, and to the diocese in 2002.
The files documenting the allegation were turned over to the Pennsylvania Attorney General in 2016/2017 during the Grand Jury investigation. However, because the documentation was sparse and the perpetrator died in 2011, we were unable to include the name on our list published in 2018 without additional information.
Our independent investigators have been in contact with the victim since July 19, and asked that victim to speak with them, but the victim asked for additional time before pursuing the investigation. We cannot provide additional information on whether the perpetrator will be added to our public disclosure list in the future because the investigation is currently ongoing.
The diocese encourages anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or misconduct by a member of the clergy or any employee or volunteer of the church, to contact law enforcement. To report abuse to the independent investigators retained by the Diocese of Erie, email ErieRCD@KLGates.com. In addition, victims or concerned individuals can report abuse to ChildLine, an outreach of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, by calling 800-932-0313. The line is open 24/7, and callers may choose to remain anonymous. Victims also are welcome to contact the diocese directly to report abuse at 814.451.1543. Counseling assistance is available for victims and/or their families through the diocesan victim assistance coordinator, Dr. Robert Nelsen, who can be reached at 814.451.1521.
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