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Woman abused by priest speaks out: '... There was this blackness over my soul'

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Carolee Horning Carolee Horning
EUGENE, OR (KPTV) -

She survived years of sex abuse at the hand of her priest, prompting her to file a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland.

Carolee Horning has tried to remain out of the spotlight throughout it all over the years, keeping the details of what happened to her private.

But now, she's deciding to share her personal struggle with FOX 12 as part of an investigative series shedding light on the issue of child sex abuse in Oregon.

"I used to say, when I talked about him, there was this blackness over my soul," Horning said.

For 20 years she kept his secret, manipulated by her spiritual mentor.

"It started when I was a teen. Nobody knew," she said. "But you contribute to the problem when you shut it out. It's happening to someone right now," said Horning.

As a child, Carolee Horning and her family spent every Sunday at the St. John the Apostle Parish in Reedsport.

She considered it to be her safe haven, a sanctuary, until it wasn't.

"All I remember is things fading," said Horning.

It started at age 13, the day she was introduced to her new parish priest, Edward Altstock. He would soon find ways to meet her in private and make her feel special.

"I have mixed emotions about, it you know. I cared about him. He was my first crush," said Horning.

Praying on her vulnerability, she says Altstock would sexually seduce and abuse her again and again, abuse that would continue in the shadows of the church for years.

"For a long time, I pretended like it was no big deal, I would tell people he was just a friend," she said.

Horning says Altstock lost interest in her as she got older. Over time, the abuse and what she calls their relationship faded. After that, Horning was afraid to speak out.

She continued to go to that small-town church with her family for more than a decade, until what she calls divine intervention in the form of a church bulletin.

"I picked it up, and I just saw it was an article about how abuse only happened in the church hundreds of years ago and not anymore," said Horning. "That's when the seed of anger started."

That fury she felt on that day prompted Carolee Horning to take on her abuser and the Catholic Church head on. She filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland in 2011.

In the end, both sides settled on one condition, the church publicly apologize.

"It was about making the church be accountable for what they did," she said.

And so for the last time, Carolee Horning went to her small-town church.

"I just remember my dad's hand on my knee and my mom holding my hand," she said.

And before her friends and family, she listened as a spokesperson for the archbishop delivered an apology for all of the years of abuse she suffered.

The apology reads:

"Dear friends in Reedsport,

In March 2011, the Archdiocese of Portland first received a report from Carolee Horning that she was involved in an inappropriate, personal relationship with Father Edward Altstock. That relationship began when she was under 18 years of age, and the relationship progressed to include sexual behavior. Father Altstock was pastor of this parish from 1984 to 1986. Father Altstock was a friend of the Horning family and took unfair advantage of the high regard in which the family held him. He was a trusted pastor and he betrayed that trust. Once again, I express my deep regret and sorrow to Ms. Horning, and now apologize also to her family and anyone in this faith community who was injured by Father Edward Altstock.

We cannot undo the past on my behalf, however, those who assist me in these matters responded promptly to Ms. Horning's report in ways that would facilitate her healing. Our safe environment coordinator Kathy Shannon met with Ms. Horning on hearing her story. We offered to provide professional counseling for Ms. Horning and have been doing so. Ms. Shannon also offered Ms. Horning pastoral assistance. When I learned of this, I offered Ms. Horning my apology and sincere regret for what happened and assured her that I would meet with her if she wished. Ms. Horning has not yet done so, but my offer remains open.

When Ms. Horning later filed the lawsuit against the Archdiocese we prompted its early settlement through mediation so that Ms. Horning could promptly put the court case behind her. Along with these efforts and this apology, come my sincere hope and prayer for the heeling of Ms. Horning and all who may have been injured by the actions of Father Altstock or any priest of this archdiocese.

May the God of peace and healing bless you all, most reverend, John G Vlazny."

A lot has changed for Horning since that day in the church.

"I just can't explain how different I feel. I don't blame myself anymore. It's huge, it's a wonderful feeling and it's hard to put into words," said Horning.

Now unafraid of living, Horning has opened up her own veterinary clinic in Eugene. She's in the process of buying her own house, and takes joy in spending time with friends and family.

Horning has also written a book about her life titled The Journal of My Broken Life. 

She's hopeful, when for so many years she never thought that to be possible, all because she refused to be silent.

"All I can say is that if you are being abused, you need to tell somebody, and you need to get help. It's not your fault, no matter what you think or feel right now," said Horning.

The Archdiocese of Portland refused to comment further on the lawsuit and referred FOX 12 to their initial apology.

As FOX 12 has looked into the issue of child sex abuse, FOX 12 has uncovered a big trend happening in Oregon. It both raises concerns, and gives some new hope for people suffering as victims.

There will be more on that Tuesday at 10 p.m.

Video: Abuse victim says, "It was about making the church accountable for what they did."

There are countless agencies across Oregon which help abuse survivors including:

http://oaasisoregon.org/

http://sarcoregon.org/

http://www.morrisonkids.org/

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