|Attorney for Sex-abuse Victims Releases Former Portland Archbishop's 2006 Deposition
By Helen Jung
April 3, 2010
An attorney who represented priest sex-abuse victims in Oregon, released for the first time Friday a 2006 deposition by Cardinal William J. Levada, a former archbishop of Portland and now a top Vatican official.
Much of the information, including his decision to reassign to another parish a priest known to have sexually abused teenage boys, has been reported in the past, through lawsuits and the archdiocese's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. But Portland attorney Erin Olson released the 293-page deposition after reading statements this week by Levada, who attacked The New York Times in a defense of the pope and his role in handling priests who sexually abused children.
Olson noted that Levada had criticized the Times for faulting the pope -- then Cardinal John Ratzinger -- for the failure to defrock a Wisconsin priest who had sexually abused as many as 200 deaf children.
Levada's defense "did not particularly surprise me," Olson said, "considering he had made the decision to reinstate a priest who was a child abuser to a parish that had a school."
She is referring to Father Joseph Baccellieri, who at first was removed from his position in 1992 when Levada learned of allegations of sex abuse of teenage boys from the 1970s. But Levada reassigned him to another parish in 1995. In the deposition, Levada defended the decision, saying the priest went through extensive therapy, and the pastor of the parish was charged with overseeing Baccellieri, as therapists recommended. In addition, he said in the deposition, "I have seen nothing to date that leads me to think my actions in this matter were not responsible and appropriate." No new claims surfaced against Baccellieri since those from the 1970s.
Attorneys for Levada reached late Friday did not have a comment.
Olson also criticized Levada's comment that the Wisconsin priest, who was never tried in criminal or canonical proceedings, "will face the One who judges both the living and the dead."
In his deposition, Levada said he did not recall whether the archdiocese had told authorities about sex abuse allegations against several priests, because so much time had passed since the alleged offenses. This includes a priest who one therapist believed was likely to continue to offend.
Olson said "In this lifetime, a priest who sexually abuses children should face a secular judge and a jury."
In the deposition, Levada said that he was unaware of a widespread problem of sex abuse by clergy when he came to Portland in 1986. He said he believed that they were unusual instances and that "he had to pay very close attention to any allegation of sexual abuse of minors and to have personal involvement and oversight of the situation."
Over the years, he received complaints or reports about at least seven priests while he was archbishop.
He said he did not recall issuing notices to parishes or schools to solicit other possible victims or to warn parishioners about priests who had been accused of sexual abuse in the past.
The deposition is one of several documents that were placed under seal until a July 2009 ruling by the U.S. Bankruptcy judge overseeing the archdiocese's Chapter 11 filing. Two priests are continuing to fight the judge's decision to lift the protective order on documents relating to their case, so Olson redacted parts of the deposition before giving the document to The Oregonian.
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