Catholic Church Faces Kenai Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Woman Alleges Anonymity Violation
By Phil Hermanek
December 21, 2005
Claiming the Catholic Archdiocese of Anchorage violated an agreement of anonymity, a woman filed a lawsuit Friday alleging she was sexually abused by a priest in Kenai between 1974 and 1988.
Identified in the suit only as Jane Doe, the victim says she requested anonymity in her identity and the identity of the alleged perpetrator, who died in 1992.
In exchange for her agreement not to bring legal action against the archdiocese, the church agreed to her strict anonymity request and to pay for counseling, the complaint states.
In a letter from Archbishop Roger Schwietz, read at Kenai Peninsula church services in March 2004, however, the Rev. Robert Wells was identified as the priest, assigned to Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai, who allegedly sexually abused a female minor.
The archbishop's letter stated the church believed there are other victims of abuse who might need to be encouraged to come forward.
The letter said, "After consultation with the victim, we have received permission to release the name of the priest."
The lawsuit claims no such permission was granted.
"That did not happen," said Kenai attorney Jim Butler on Tuesday.
Butler, who along with Seattle attorney Michael Pfau is representing Jane Doe, said, "The plaintiff adamantly denies ever being contacted (by the archdiocese)."
Butler said Pfau handles these types of legal cases in the Northwest and is "very knowledgeable" about them.
Sister Charlotte Davenport, chancellor of the archdiocese, declined to comment on the suit Tuesday.
The complaint, filed in Anchorage Superior Court, states Schwietz's letter identifies a single sex abuse victim, Father Wells as the involved priest, the date Wells served on the Kenai Peninsula, the location where he served when the abuse occurred, the victim's gender and the fact the victim resided in Kenai.
"More detail came out in meetings (Schwietz conducted) at the parishes," Butler said.
"As a result of the released information, Jane Doe was identified as the victim in the community where she resides," the complaint states.
It also says the abuse began when the victim was 8 or 9 years old and continued for approximately eight years between 1974 and 1988.
The abuse reportedly ranged from Wells holding Jane Doe from behind and licking her ear or neck, to Wells holding her down on his lap and making her "take naps" with him.
Wells also is alleged to have photographed the victim, putting her in short skirts, and undoing her blouse to expose her.
The suit is seeking general damages "for mental and emotional upset and disturbance and other disorders resulting from each incident of sexual contact and assault suffered ... in an amount in excess of $100,000," as well as punitive damages against the Archdiocese of Anchorage.
Butler said the church has been served with the complaint and he is waiting for a hearing date to be set.
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