Archdiocese Settles Suit Alleging Sex Abuse by Priest

By Michael Wilson
January 27, 2001

Summary: Rulings for the plaintiff on key legal issues leads to the settlement, terms of which are confidential The Archdiocese of Portland has settled a sex-abuse lawsuit against one of its former priests, the Rev. Melvin Bucher, who served at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Tigard.

Trial was to begin this week, but the case settled after Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Gallagher Jr. on Jan. 19 ruled for the plaintiff, Steven Fearing, on key legal questions. Fearing's lawyers would have been allowed to present evidence that the archdiocese was aware of Bucher's failed 1993 lie-detector test about sex with minors. They also might have brought evidence of prior priest sex-abuse cases in the archdiocese to suggest that the church condoned abuse.

"The archdiocese had a policy of ratifying that conduct," said a Fearing lawyer, Kelly Clark, pointing to last year's flood of lawsuits against the Rev. Maurice Grammond, citing abuse spanning three decades. The archdiocese settled 23 of those cases in October.

The terms of the Fearing settlement are confidential. An archdiocese lawyer declined comment.

Clark said he had planned to present expert testimony that 3 percent to 5 percent of priests sexually abuse children. Those figures are extrapolated from the known incidents of abuse and refuted by other experts. Kelly compared the archdiocese to a trucking company that forbids drug use but allows 3 percent to 5 percent of its drivers to take amphetamines while on the road.

The lawsuit, filed in 1994, rewrote law in 1999 when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the archdiocese can be held liable as the employer of an abusive priest. In the past, a plaintiff had to show that officials from institutions involved in the care of children knew or should have known that their employee was molesting a child.

Bucher has admitted the abuse in the 1960s and 70s. He now lives in California.


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