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  Plaintiffs Seek $28 Million in Sex Abuse Case against Priest

By Camille Spencer
The Oregonian [Oregon]
June 10, 2003

Seven men filed a $28 million clergy-abuse lawsuit Monday accusing an Oregon priest of molesting them while they were in state custody at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility three decades ago.

The men claim the Rev. Michael Sprauer, a Roman Catholic priest, would visit them in solitary confinement and molest them, coaxing them with affection and promises to get them out of the youth prison.

Curtis Grecco, 44, of Portland said Sprauer molested him when he was 15 years old. Grecco said he was molested seven times in a three-week period, which he said led to a life of alcoholism since he was a teen-ager.

"He changed the course of my life," Grecco said, "and now I want to change the course of his."

Sprauer has been a priest in the Portland Archdiocese since 1972, when he was assigned to MacLaren in Woodburn. He was transferred to Oregon's women's prison in 1976. He was a chaplain with the Oregon Department of Corrections for 25 years.

The Portland Archdiocese released a statement Monday saying Sprauer "emphatically denies the allegations of misconduct 30 years ago."

The archdiocese also said the suit's allegations that the organization was aware of a pattern of sexual misconduct are false. Sprauer, who is a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salem, has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation.

Since December 1999, about 160 people have filed lawsuits in Oregon, claiming they were molested by Catholic priests and other church officials. Portland Archdiocese officials have settled about 100 of those lawsuits.

None of the more than 20 cases pending before the Baker Diocese, which includes Eastern Oregon, has been settled.

This is the first time the state has been named in a clergy-abuse suit. A spokesman for the Oregon Department of Justice did not return telephone calls seeking comment Monday.

Monday's lawsuit suggests that the flood of priest litigation has not subsided.

Five of the seven men in the latest suit appeared at a news conference Monday in Portland. The plaintiffs said they were visited at various locations at MacLaren, some while in solitary confinement, where Sprauer would make promises or use affection to ease their loneliness. They also said MacLaren officials were made aware of the abuse and ignored it.

The men had various reasons for coming forward after such a long time. Most said they had never spoken about the abuse.

"I was scared; I had no real family," Grecco said. "He offered me an out if this would take place. For the longest time, I thought I was the only one. It was a deep, dark secret."

Brad Vollmer, 45, of Portland said he was abused twice by Sprauer. He came forward after a conversation with another of Sprauer's accusers.

"We started talking, and he mentioned Michael Sprauer," he said. "I said, 'You too?' "

Doug DeJong, 48, of Portland decided to come forward after reading reports of the psychological effects of abuse by clergy. He said he was abused once by Sprauer,

"I jumped up and ran, and that was in 1972," he said. "And I've been running ever since." Staffer Ashbel Green contributed to this report. Camille Spencer: 503-294-7656; camillespencer@news.oregonian.com

 
 

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