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  Bishop Weigand Notes Sexual-Misconduct Allegations against 2

By Jan Thompson
Deseret News
December 18, 1993

Salt Lake's Roman Catholic Diocese has disclosed two allegations of sexual misconduct involving a child against a retired priest and a lay volunteer.

To avoid misrepresentation of the cases, Bishop William K. Weigand discusses the allegations in this week's diocesan newspaper, the Intermountain Catholic. The newspaper's weekly edition was released Thursday."Recent allegations and convictions (of sexual abuse) have also involved Catholic priests in different parts of the country, resulting in scandals that have brought terrible mistrust and confusion. The tragedy of these incidents extends beyond the individual victims to the church itself and to the many faith-filled priests and people who serve the church, but who are made suspect simply because of their occupational proximity to scandal," Weigand writes.

"Sadly, I must report that we in the Diocese of Salt Lake City are not immune to such tragic reali-ties."

Weigand says the first allegation involves a retired priest, the Rev. Lawrence Spellen, 76, and is being made by a 27-year-old man who says he had an ongoing relationship with the priest since he was a teen. Spellen, who now lives in California, served 34 years as a priest at seven Utah parishes and also a couple of years as a teacher at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City. He retired in 1987. The accuser says his relationship with Spellen began when he was a minor during the mid-80s. The incidents allegedly occurred when Spellen was a pastor of Salt Lake's St. Patrick's Parish.

Weigand explains that Spellen confided in him a year ago that he was being privately accused of sexual misconduct in a relationship that allegedly occurred many years ago. Diocesan officials responded immediately to the allegations when their own preliminary investigation showed the accusations had some merit.

Spellen was placed on canonical suspension, removing him from any liturgical capacity within the church, which includes permission to celebrate Mass and the sacrament. He is still suspended, and the diocese reported the allegations to the Utah Division of Family Services.

In late October, the accuser told Father Robert Bussen, vicar general of the Salt Lake Diocese, he had a continuing relationship with Spellen but was trying to break it off. Bussen offered to arrange psychological care, which the man accepted.

Weigand said the man's lawyer is demanding a cash settlement under threat of suit.

Spellen's attorney, John Green of Salt Lake City, said neither he, Spellen nor the priest's California lawyer, John O'Brien, would comment about the case.

"In the case of Father Spellen, there are numerous conflicting allegations which we are trying to investigate. I cannot, therefore, at this time speak conclusively about any of the allegations," writes Weigand.

The other case involves a lay volunteer at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. He was immediately relieved of his services, said Weigand. Bussen said the volunteer, who was not identified, had not been involved in youth ministries.

In September, a man in his mid-20s told Bussen that he was abused by the layman 15 years before. He said he knew of other victims and talked with two others, who subsequently visited diocesan officials with him to discuss their cases.

Bussen said the three, in their 20s, are receiving professional counseling. They are not threatening the diocese with a civil lawsuit, he said.

"It is the diocese's intention, however, to take whatever steps are necessary to see that any victims are dealt with honestly and fairly and compassionately and that the healing process be expedited. The victimization of minors is morally wrong,' he said.

However, Weigand expressed his concern for Spellen who has given many years of effective service. Many who know Spellen "will be left terribly hurt and confused by these allegations," he said.

"It is my prayer that with these public disclosures, we can all begin the redemptive process of healing our brokenness."

He urged others who may have suffered abuse to contact Father Bussen at 328-8641.

 
 

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