|Priest Takes Stand at Trial
Testimony Marks Sprauer's First Public Comments on Accusations of Sex Abuse
By Alan Gustafson
May 8, 2007
Portland — The Rev. Michael Sprauer took the witness stand Monday, calmly fielding questions and defending himself against allegations that he sexually abused juvenile offenders at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in the 1970s.
The Salem priest's testimony contradicted previous courtroom accounts by a handful of men who told the jury how they were sexually abused by Sprauer at the reform school in Woodburn.
Spilling tears and flashing anger, Sprauer's accusers described coerced acts of oral sex and mutual masturbation orchestrated by the priest. As they told it, much of the abuse occurred in isolation cells.
Sprauer, dressed in a black suit and a white Catholic priest collar, told the jury Monday that he refrained from going into offenders' cells during his tenure as MacLaren chaplain — from October 1972 until Jan. 31, 1975. He cited safety and security reasons.
"I was simply there to talk through the grate to anyone who wanted to talk," Sprauer said, recounting conversations he had with inmates through a small opening in cell doors.
Salem attorney Daniel Gatti, representing three of Sprauer's accusers, repeatedly asked the priest whether he had "free access" to disciplinary cells. He also pressed Sprauer to describe what kind of counseling, solace and consoling he could have provided to troubled inmates "just talking through a hole in the wall."
"My job in visiting them there was a very casual contact," Sprauer said. "It was not intended to be private."
As MacLaren chaplain, the priest said he entered one cell for a medical emergency. He rushed in to help a boy who had slashed his wrists in a bloody suicide attempt, he said.
"It was the one time I went into a cell," Sprauer said.
The priest's courtroom testimony marked his first public comments about the sexual abuse allegations that were filed against him in a series of lawsuits in 2003 and 2004. He earlier denied the allegations through his attorney.
In all, at least 15 former MacLaren inmates have sued Sprauer for decades-old incidents of sexual abuse. Six lawsuits are pending in Marion County.
The three plaintiffs in the Portland case are Randy Sloan, 49, of Aumsville; Robert Paul Jr., 49, of Salem; and Norman Klettke Jr., 44, of Portland.
All three men blame the priest for inflicting psychological trauma on them that caused or contributed to decades-long problems ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to relationship problems. They are asking the jury of seven women and five men to award them financial compensation.
Sloan testified Monday that Sprauer molested him in a segregation cell in February 1975. After telling Sloan that he was handsome, Sprauer grabbed his hand and placed it on his own groin, according to Sloan. He said the priest got mad and left when he refused to give him oral sex.
Sloan told the jury that Sprauer abused him again in July 1975. This time, he said, the priest demanded oral sex as he transported him to his sister's funeral.
On the way to Aumsville, Sloan said, the priest pulled the car onto a gravel road, stopped, and threatened to take him back to MacLaren if he didn't provide oral sex.
Sloan said he complied with the priest. Afterward, he ran away, skipping his sister's funeral. He soon was caught and returned to MacLaren.
Gatti asked Sloan to tell the jury how the abuse made him feel. "Like totally freaking ashamed of myself," he said, "just like I am today."
Sprauer's attorney earlier told the jury that a different priest, the Rev. Gordon Dickey, drove Sloan to his sister's funeral. Dickey is expected to testify later in the trial.
Contact: agustafs@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6709
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