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Son offers advice to victims of his father's sexual abuse

BANGOR - John S. Skinner Jr. of Ellsworth was not in Penobscot County Superior Court on Friday when the man for whom he is named was sentenced for sexually abusing children he met through church youth groups.

The 38-year-old father of three daughters understands the pain his father's victims have experienced. Skinner Jr. has been there. He was his father's first victim.

"Concerning the other three victims, I have a certain amount of guilt over not speaking up as a kid, even though I know it was not my fault," he said in an interview earlier this month. "I still feel a certain amount of, 'if I'd said something this might not have happened [to others].' I've been told that [the incident with] the last victim was a year ago."

John S. Skinner Sr., 62, of Bar Harbor was not charged in that incident. He pleaded guilty Friday to one charge of gross sexual assault and one charge of gross sexual conduct involving two different victims.   In a plea agreement with prosecutors, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison with all but five suspended and six years of probation.  The statute of limitations has expired on the abuse that Skinner Jr. endured and the fourth victim did not want to press charges, according to prosecutors.

After learning of the plea agreement, Skinner Jr. said earlier this month that five years in prison is not enough for the trauma his father caused his victims.   "I don't think it's nearly enough," he said. "At the same time, I'm opposed to the death penalty, but I don't feel that five years is enough. Not even close.   "I forgave him once. This is not like a fender bender."

By the time Skinner Sr. moved with his wife, two sons and daughter from California to Maine in 1977, the sexual abuse of his son had stopped, according to Skinner Jr.

From childhood, Skinner Sr. was a devout Catholic. He attended Catholic boarding school in Detroit and a seminary run by Maryknoll, a Catholic foreign missionary society, with the intention of becoming a priest. He later changed his mind and became an accountant.  When the family moved to Ellsworth in 1978, Skinner Sr. helped organize a youth group at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

He interacted with many more teenagers than those at the Ellsworth church, according to his son. At that time, the deanery - a geographic grouping of parishes that often held joint events - stretched from Mount Desert Island to Greenville and from Winterport to Lincoln.

At his sentencing Friday, Skinner Sr. said that he "never sexually violated any youth on any church activity, any church outing or on any church property."  The defendant did live at the rectory of a South Portland Church where the Rev. Paul Coughlin, 69, was pastor, from sometime in 2001 to mid-2003.

Skinner Jr. said that his father met Coughlin in 1980 when his parents were divorcing. Coughlin then was pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Bangor. He became Skinner Sr.'s confessor and friend, according to his son.

"He told me then that he had told Father Paul everything," Skinner Jr. said earlier this month. "I'll never forget this conversation. I looked at him and asked, 'Everything?' and he said, 'Yeah.'   "One of the reasons I forgave him is that it appeared he was trying to get help. And his world had fallen apart around his ears."

Skinner Jr. remained close to his father until March when he learned that there were three other victims. He and the stepfather of one of the victims took Skinner Sr. to meet with a Maine State Police detective in April and the charges followed.

But he has not spoken to his father since then and does not plan to see or speak to him again. Skinner Jr. said that he forgave his father once, but cannot do so twice.Skinner Jr. works in retail management and is separated from his wife. His siblings and mother now live in Florida.   He said last month that he hopes the other victims will seek help and learn from his experience.

"My advice is you have to take care of yourself first," he said. "One huge mistake I made is sitting on this as long as I did and not getting help for it. And you can't do that because it will tear you apart.

"You will have many sleepless nights. If you are young, it will haunt you until you are old. If you are old, you know it's haunting you.  Probably, the most important thing is to be sure that this doesn't eat you alive from the inside out.   "And the second thing is that people like my father will do what they can to scare you - which is what he did to me - make you feel guilty about it or coerce you into staying silent so they can prey on others. Seriously, they aren't called predators for nothing. If someone has been abused in any fashion, they need to speak up."

Source: Bangor Daily News


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