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  News of Priest's Abuse Trouble was All too Familiar in Fullerton

By Todd von Kampen
Omaha World-Herald
April 10, 2002

Annette Dubas wasn't surprised to hear that the Rev. Thomas Sellentin, who was her pastor two decades ago, had been dismissed over multiple allegations of sexual abuse.

She had been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Dubas and two other longtime parishioners of St. Peter Catholic Church this week recalled the gut-wrenching controversy when some families accused Sellentin, who arrived in Fullerton in 1979, of sexually abusing their sons.

It subsided after then-Archbishop Daniel Sheehan transferred Sellentin in 1980, they said. Sheehan's successor, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, ended Sellentin's 37-year career Sunday over the allegations linked to the Fullerton parish and three others.

Ever since news of sexual abuse by some Catholic priests began to spread worldwide, "I'd been expecting things to start happening," Dubas said.

"This definitely is going to bring up old wounds and things that happened in the past."

Sellentin, who was ordained in 1965, served 12 parishes in Omaha and northeast Nebraska.

Other allegations arose from St. Joan of Arc in Omaha, St. Mary in West Point and Holy Family in Lindsay. Sellentin spent two years at each parish between 1968 and 1974.

Sellentin next was an associate pastor for two years at Blessed Sacrament in Omaha. He then spent three years at St. Mary in Spencer before Sheehan sent him to St. Peter.

Two parents in the Fullerton parish said Sunday that five or six boys reported being abused by Sellentin when they were at the church for education or yard work.

Their complaints eventually were referred to the Rev. Joseph Miksch, then a pastor in nearby Duncan and a member of the Omaha Archdiocese's Priests' Personnel Board.

Miksch interviewed the boys and Sellentin, and then passed on the information to Sheehan, who retired in 1993 and died in 2000.

Dubas, 46, and Dennis Jarecke, 47, both recalled Sellentin as an outgoing person and a good preacher. The priest substituted on the St. Peter bowling team, said Jarecke, a lector and a former parish council member.

Sellentin had "real down-to-earth, interesting homilies," said a third parishioner, who declined to be identified. "He would maybe put up a prop and carry on his homily from that."

All three said they didn't know when Sellentin arrived in Fullerton that he had been accused of sexual abuse at another parish.

After similar allegations broke out in their midst, a friend from St. Joan of Arc said, "Yeah, that's what happened here," said Dubas, a 1975 convert from the United Methodist Church.

But Dubas, who taught the parish's religious-education classes for children, said Sellentin never behaved inappropriately in her presence. Her family "was very surprised (and) saddened" by the allegations.

Not all parishioners knew what the allegations were, but Jarecke said he heard that it involved "improper touching."

He doubted it at first, he said, but "evidently, they had some pretty substantial proof, because it wasn't long and he was gone."

An emotional parish meeting followed Sellentin's departure, which the third parishioner recalled as "a shouting match. ... They didn't want to believe that it actually happened."

Dubas, who attended the meeting, said she wondered who would baptize her recently born baby. But "I never questioned that the allegations were true, and I didn't have anything against the families who made them. I don't think people would make up something like that.

"I was more frustrated (with) the way it was handled. If there was a problem the way they said there was, the answer wasn't to move him to another parish. He needed help, and he needed understanding and compassion. As Christians, that's what we are to do."

People also must remember that the children who were sexually abused need prayers and compassion, Dubas said.

She and the other parishioners said their faith remains strong. Jarecke said less-committed believers might fall away over the scandals, but "it isn't going to change my Catholic faith."

 
 

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