Dioceses Struggle As 3 Priests Are Accused of Molestation
By Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach Post (Florida)
March 6, 1995
On Ash Wednesday, five young men walked into the state attorney's office to discuss criminal charges against a Catholic priest.
The Rev. Arthur Bendixen is one of two with Palm Beach County ties who are alleged to have molested young people in their charge. A former priest also has been sued and criminally charged. He is being held in a Brevard County jail.
The Diocese of Orlando denies it knew of any of the alleged molestations claimed by a growing chorus of young people against Bendixen, former head of a Boynton Beach seminary.
But it did pay $ 250,000 to the family of a Central Florida girl who said the Rev. Eamon O'Dowd molested her. O'Dowd then transferred to Palm Beach County.
And the lawsuit against former priest James Pagni claims the diocese shuttled him from church to church, where he allegedly continued to molest people.
Attorneys say the Orlando diocese, where Bendixen, now 44, was chancellor for seven years, knew or should have known of Bendixen's alleged transgressions when he came to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach in 1991.
"This is the No. 3 man in the diocese and you tell me they don't have a suspicion?" said Charles Harrison, attorney for three of Bendixen's accusers.
The Rev. Pablo Navarro, current rector of St. Vincent, said he came after Bendixen arrived and did not know whether the seminary knew of Bendixen's problems when he was transferred.
But, he said, "it seems very strange to me that bishops would have assigned a person to the seminary who would have had problems in the past. No bishop would do anything like that."
Former St. Vincent priest Michael Dubruiel says Bendixen left in 1993, just after three other priests quit in protest when two investigations could not prove a Miami student's claim that Bendixen had molested him.
The attorney for the diocese said Bendixen insisted the incident was a misunderstanding and the student admitted as much.
Bendixen then returned to the Diocese of Orlando. But the diocese suspended him last year and barred him from any religious duties after it had conducted an internal investigation of sexual misconduct and after Bendixen refused treatment. The diocese said it did contact state agencies about the claims.
After the state attorney's office met last week with five of Bendixen's alleged victims, spokesman Randy Means said most of the accusations probably will not lead to criminal charges because a statute of limitations has expired. A four-year statute of limitations applies when victims are between 12 and 16, the age of all the men when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Bendixen has moved to Chicago, but reporters have been unable to locate him there for comment.
O'Dowd left a Lantana church last week, recalled to the Orlando diocese, after it was revealed the church had paid a family $ 250,000 in 1986 to settle a sexual abuse charge.
The church got an injunction to enforce a confidentiality agreement on O'Dowd's case but insists the Boynton Beach and Lantana churches where O'Dowd later worked knew of his alleged problems. It says O'Dowd was able to put the case behind him and has had no problems since then.
O'Dowd could not be reached for comment. But he told an Orlando television station he was "set up" by the family of the 12-year-old girl he was accused of fondling.
During the arbitration, it had been revealed that two other girls had complained of the same type of fondling.
On Feb. 27, after published reports outlined the deal, the Diocese of Palm Beach said O'Dowd, who was still officially an Orlando priest assisting at the Lantana church, came from Orlando with positive endorsements and "is a good priest trying very hard to exercise his priestly ministry among God's people."
Since his arrival in Palm Beach County, it continued, "there has never been one instance of impropriety on his part."
The next day, it sent out a revised statement. O'Dowd had been recalled to Orlando.
The alleged abuse "reportedly occurred prior to the time Father O'Dowd began his ministry in the Diocese of Palm Beach," the statement said. It repeated its insistence there had been no reports of wrongdoing while O'Dowd was in South Florida.
The third priest, Joseph Pagni III, is now in a Brevard County jail, after he was arrested late last month and charged with molesting a young boy for whom he was a counselor in 1992. He left the priesthood in 1986.
A suit against Pagni says he molested young people at one church after another until the diocese put him through school for a mental counseling career in exchange for his leaving the priesthood. It says the diocese lied to the state when it asked about his background for a counselor's license.
The church says it did help him change careers but didn't deceive other churches or the state.
The Rev. Arthur Bendixen
Rector, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, 1991-1993. Former priest says he left St. Vincent after investigation of charge he molested a Miami seminary student found insufficient evidence; three priests quit in protest. Former altar boy sued last month, saying Bendixen molested him for 12 years while Bendixen was chancellor of Diocese of Orlando. At least four others also have accused Bendixen. Criminal investigation under way in Orlando. Left diocese last year. Whereabouts unknown.
The Rev. Eamon Mary O'Dowd
Diocese of Orlando paid $ 250,000 in 1986 to family of 12-year-old girl who says he fondled her, according to court records. Family fought to break confidentiality of arbitration; appeals court upheld sealing of files. O'Dowd worked at churches in Boynton Beach and Lantana before being recalled last week to Orlando after published reports outlined deal.
The Rev. Thomas James Pagni III
Suit filed last month says he molested 17-year-old for whom he was a mental counselor in 1992. It claims diocese moved him from one church to another after molestations before paying his way through school in exchange for his leaving priesthood in 1986. Pagni arrested late last month in Brevard County.
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