|Church Opens Part of Secret Abuse Files
By Ashbel S. Green and Steve Woodward
The Oregonian [Portland, OR]
June 7, 2007
Decades after the priest sex abuse scandal first surfaced in Oregon, the Portland Archdiocese released hundreds of secret documents showing how church officials repeatedly sought to keep the crisis quiet and failed to remove clergy who faced credible accusations.
The documents released online late Wednesday represent only a portion of a trove of personnel files, letters and depositions that have been kept from public view since the 1983 conviction of the Rev. Thomas Laughlin, the notorious pedophile accused of abusing dozens of boys over more than 20 years.
The documents fill in the details of a broad outline of sexual abuse exposed by a flood of civil lawsuits that eventually drove the archdiocese into bankruptcy in 2004.
Plaintiff attorneys said the release of the documents was incomplete and designed to obscure the failure of the archdiocese to confront dozens of sexual predators.
"I think one can infer that the archdiocese is hoping by dribbling out in several installments that they'll take attention away from it," said Kelly Clark, a Portland attorney who represented dozens of accusers. "It's hard for me not to feel a little sandbagged."
Bud Bunce, spokesman for the archdiocese, defended the release of the documents and said they demonstrate that the archdiocese has been reasonably open about priest abuse since litigation started.
"We think this goes towards refuting that we're hiding things," Bunce said.
Highlights of the documents include:
Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk in 2002 criticized as "inappropriate" an archdiocese proposal to investigate child abuse allegations itself before calling the police.
Then-Archbishop William Levada told the Rev. Aldo Orso-Manzonetta to stop inviting boys to spend the night in the rectory, but took no action to remove him from the priesthood despite a long record of accusations.
Church officials discussed telling parishioners about sex abuse allegations against the Rev. Rocco Perone, but dropped the idea when his religious order objected.
The documents released Wednesday cover about 20 priests, or roughly half the clergy about whom the archdiocese has agreed to release files.
The documents also revealed a previously undisclosed accusation against the Rev. Joseph Mikulich, a Franciscan who served as a pastor in St. Stanislaus church in North Portland from 1962 to 1982.
A 25-year-old Montana woman told her pastor in 1985 that Mikulich repeatedly sexually abused her from the age of 12 to 21 when he visited her family in Great Falls.
In response to her Montana bishop, Portland Archbishop Cornelius M. Power said in a letter that he did not intend to tell "Father Joseph," who was retired and in his 80s at the time.
After pointing out that it was too late for her to file a lawsuit, Power questioned "what she expects to gain from her disclosure."
"The is a personal matter between herself and the priest," Power added. "Naturally, I will disclose none of this to Father Joseph. He has rendered good service to the church, and I hope that there will be no public scandal, since apparently all of this happened many years ago."
Two years earlier, Schrunk had criticized Power for ignoring sex abuse allegations against Laughlin.
The documents also indicate that Schrunk was unimpressed with the child abuse policy adopted by the archdiocese in 2002.
In a June 2002 letter, Schrunk wrote that the county child abuse investigators had several objections:
The church proposed to screen some allegations and not report them.
The policy called for victims or their guardians to sign statements describing the abuse before reporting it.
After a signed statement was received, the suspect would have been notified of the complaint.
Archdiocesan employees who are required by state law to report suspected abuse would have been required first to consult with as many as three superiors within schools, parishes or the archdiocese.
The report would have been made by someone other than the person with firsthand information.
Schrunk wrote that obtaining signed statements from victims or guardians would impede investigations, create unacceptable delays in reporting and risk further harming a victim just by the act of taking the statement.
He also argued against informing a suspect of the allegations because of the danger that the suspect would retaliate against the victim, harm police officers, commit suicide, flee or destroy evidence.
Later that year, the archdiocese issued a revised policy incorporating most of Schrunk's suggestions, including reporting of suspected abuse directly to civil authorities. At the same time, the church also created the post of child protection officer to help parishes and schools comply with the policy.
Bunce said the archdiocese probably would release more documents, but he did not know details.
"That's all that's been cleared for right now," Bunce said. "There are potentially more, but I don't know how many or what they are."
Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202; firstname.lastname@example.org
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