Diocese Researching Accusations about Former Hays Priest|
By Larry Kline
Havre Daily News [Montana]
February 10, 2006
An official with the Fairbanks Diocese on Thursday responded to a lawsuit filed in Alaska alleging sexual abuse of children by two Jesuit priests, including a deceased priest who served out his last years at St. Paul's Mission Church in Hays.
Diocese human resources director Ronnie Rosenberg said the diocese, also known as the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska, was unaware of any complaints against the late Rev. Bernard McMeel, who served at St. Paul's from 1978 until his death in 1992, or the Rev. Andrew Eordogh, who is now retired and living in Hungary. In recent years, the diocese has taken an active approach to dealing with past complaints and preventing abuse, she added.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Anchorage law firm Cooke, Roosa & Valcarce on behalf of an unnamed victim, alleges that first McMeel, then Eordogh, molested a boy between the ages of 4 and 7 between 1967 and 1970. The lawsuit names the Fairbanks Diocese, along with the Oregon and Alaska provinces of the Society of Jesus.
Rosenberg confirmed that McMeel and Eordogh had worked for the diocese, and said she will be researching church records to see if any complaints had been made against the two Jesuits.
"We're pulling these files together to see if we have anything specific on these gentlemen," Rosenberg said. "I was unaware of any complaint of this nature against either of them."
She said the bishop who headed the diocese at the time, along with two successors, are deceased.
"Many of the people who would have been witnesses to this are now deceased," Rosenberg said. "None of us ... were there and would even know of these gentlemen. That is one of the problems of cases of this vintage."
Bishop Donald Kettler, who now heads the diocese, is committed to working with victims and reaching an "equitable solution" for such cases, Rosenberg said. The diocese has a victim's assistance coordinator on staff, along with a healing committee, and attempts to provide counseling to anyone who wishes it, she added.
"(Kettler) is committed to healing, listening to victims and protecting children," Rosenberg said. "We have a plan in place for educating everyone from the smallest child up to parents, volunteers, employees and the clergy in appropriate conduct. We are all watching all of the time, and encouraging people to come forth."
The diocese has dealt with such lawsuits before, she said. Complaints have been filed against 10 clergy and two lay volunteers, she said. Those cases span three decades from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s.
"They are mostly events occurring in the '60s and '70s, and that seems to be the case nationwide," Rosenberg said.
She said attorneys for the diocese work closely with attorneys for the Oregon Jesuits.
Five cases have been settled out of court, and two complaints were settled before lawsuits were filed, she said. One case is scheduled to go to trial in Nome, Alaska, on Feb. 27, she said.
Attorney Ken Roosa has said he believes there may be more victims of McMeel and Eordogh. The Newport Beach, Calif., law firm of Manly, McGuire & Stewart is working with the Alaska firm and collecting information on McMeel.
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