|Ex-Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse in '70s
By Howard Greninger
February 16, 2007
Terre Haute — A former priest at St. Benedict's Catholic Church is accused in a Marion County lawsuit of sexual abusing a girl in Terre Haute in the early 1970s.
A Seymour law firm representing Gretchen Mayerhofer is using a Tribune-Star advertisement to seek information about the Rev. Germain Belen.
Belen served at St. Benedict's from 1968 to 1976. He died in 2004, a year after Mayerhofer, of Placerville, Calif., filed a lawsuit accusing him of repeatedly molesting and raping her in the Terre Haute church and its rectory when she was between age 5 and 10.
The lawsuit names the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as defendant. The ads in the Tribune-Star began Tuesday.
Seymour attorney Roger Pardieck said soliciting information though ads is common and has been done in many other cases nationwide to locate similar such victims.
"It is very, very, difficult for people to come forth. By coming forth, they experience the trauma all over again," Pardieck said. "We have had some response, but before anyone comes forth, there has to be consideration of their family, their friends and they can't just take it upon themselves to step up. It is a very, very difficult decision.
"We've had, from a person who is not a victim, information that there is another person out there that is considering calling us. They haven't called and we are not at liberty to contact this person, so it is a matter of waiting and see what develops," Pardieck said.
Pardieck said having people contact the law firm "is not enough. It is not enough to have possibilities, we have to have people really come forth and stand up and tell their story under oath. That is asking a lot."
Archdiocese spokesman Greg Otolski said "lawyers obviously have a right to do that. They can do what they want.
"From our standpoint, we have been encouraging people for years that if anybody knows of any kind of knowledge to report it to proper legal authorities and police and to let us know about it," Otolski said. "What they are asking isn't anything we haven't been asking for, for a long time. That information can be found on our [archdiocese] Web site and we have ads that run in the Criterion [Catholic newspaper] asking people to do that."
Otolski said the archdiocese sends letters to parishes to be read in masses and placed in bulletins when priests or church officials are involved in lawsuits. It includes information on how to report incidents. "That has been a policy of the archdiocese for a long time," Otolski said.
While Belen is deceased, Pardieck said Belen "was deposed before he died, so we know perhaps not as much as we would know if he testified live, but we at least do have his deposition and we have some significant information from that deposition."
On Friday, Pardieck was granted a motion in Marion County Superior Court 11 to take depositions in Missouri at Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation of men who minister to priests and brothers with personal difficulties.
Servants of the Paraclete offers therapy for priests in St. Louis and in Dittmer, Mo.
"It appears that the Servants of the Paraclete in Missouri has become the depository for records from other places around the country," Pardieck said. "Father Belen was sent to New Mexico for some reason back in the 1960s and there are two institutions out there that provided care for members who had trouble with either pedophilia or sexual or substance abuse."
Pardieck said his law firm searched for records in New Mexico and were told they were sent to Missouri. "Our purpose to go to Missouri for depositions is to find out if indeed there are records," he said. "The records are supposed to be kept forever, but finding them is another matter."
In reference to the court motion, Otolski said the archdiocese does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Under Indiana law, a minor has two years from the date of their 18th birthday to file a civil lawsuit, unless they did not become aware of injury after that time, Pardieck said.
"This is a repressed memory case and these cases are very, very common around the country. The repressed memory issue is certainly well documented and well recognized, but whether or not it will be recognized and accepted in Indiana is another matter. That issue will be decided by the court at a later date," Pardieck said.
Mayerhofer had a breakdown in 2002 when memories of the molestations surfaced, her attorney said. She had worked in a bank and as a controller at a software company before the breakdown.
"She was seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder and in the course of those sessions started getting flashbacks, and as a result, she had a breakdown and became totally disabled. She was on total Social Security disability for almost three years," Pardieck said.
"She has put herself back together and is employed again and is learning to cope with this," Pardieck said, adding Mayerhofer is working in the computer industry.
Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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