PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For Kirk Rice, it felt like an honor, that moment in fifth grade at Sacred Heart Elementary School in the late-1960s when he, like others before him, was called out of class to clean erasers.
“This was my first time,” said Rice. “I was all proud that I was called out to do extra detail, extra work.”
Instead, Rice says Fr. John Unger, the pastor, led him through an underground tunnel between the school and the church into the secluded choir room.
Rice: “I was brutally sodomized by Fr. Unger.”
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “You were raped?”
Rice: “I was raped. I was sodomized.”
Even then Rice says he knew that beyond the physical pain that what had happened was wrong. He asked Unger why. Why would he rape a 10-year-old boy?
“He said this makes you a bona fide, certified member now of the Catholic Church,” said Rice. “And that if you were to tell anybody… ‘Now, Kirk, don’t you tell anyone because this is our secret. Jesus will get you if you tell somebody. He will harm your family.’”
But Rice say he soon found out from a half dozen of his other classmates that he was not alone, that the other boys had been sexually assaulted by Unger as well.
“We told each other. We all knew. We all referred to him as ‘monster Unger.’ We never called him Fr. Unger, we called him ‘monster Unger,’” said Rice. “I know for a fact that these children, my friends, in my classroom were brutally and viciously sodomized just like me.”
He says all six of those classmates lived tortured lives and now are gone, two from suicide, and the others from drugs and alcohol.
“They didn’t make it. They’re dead. Because they were sodomized. Ain’t that crazy? Rape a little kid and he dies 20 years later. It doesn’t matter. He was raped. He is dead because they couldn’t deal with it,” Rice said.
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Now, with his attorney, Alan Perer, Rice is suing the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese over his own tortured life. He’s spent time in jail related to his own battle with drugs and alcohol, but he quit 18 years ago and says he been able to face the reality of the assault and begin a process of recovery.
“It wasn’t until I got sober did I realize, it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the bad guy in this ordeal, he was,” Rice said.
Rice says he reported this to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, but there will be no criminal prosecution. Fr. Unger died in 2004, and the allegation is being made long after the statute of limitations has run its course for criminal prosecution.
Rice is one of about two dozen clients represented by Perer, who are challenging the statute in civil cases.