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  3 Allege Abuse by Priest in Spencer
The Brothers' Allegations Stem from the Late 1970s, when the Rev. Thomas Sellentin Served at St. Mary Church

By Jeffrey Robb
Omaha World Herald
April 11, 2002

Three brothers said Wednesday that they were sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Sellentin while he was pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Spencer, Neb.

The men's abuse allegations, dating to the late 1970s, raise to five the number of known parishes where accusations have been made against Sellentin.

The Archdiocese of Omaha, which removed the 62-year-old priest from his duties Sunday, said then that it had received abuse reports from four Nebraska parishes: St. Joan of Arc in Omaha, St. Mary in West Point, St. Peter in Fullerton and Holy Family in Lindsay.

The archdiocese said Sellentin, a priest for 37 years, has acknowledged abusing children.

Sellentin served three years at the Spencer parish, in north-central Nebraska, in the late 1970s.

The brothers - Madison County residents Tom, Rick and Steve Schommer - told The World-Herald that Sellentin inappropriately touched them numerous times when they were teen-agers.

"I just regret not saying something," said Steve Schommer, 39, the youngest brother.

After Sellentin's removal Sunday from parishes in North Bend and Snyder, Neb., Steve Schommer said he called the archdiocese and left a voice message. He said in the message that Sellentin's abuse had extended beyond the four parishes but he wasn't completely sure he mentioned Spencer.

The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor and spokesman for the archdiocese, was not available for comment Wednesday. He said earlier this week that the archdiocese had received no allegations pertaining to Spencer.

Thursday, Gutgsell said he would contact the current pastor at St. Mary in Spencer in case people might need counseling. He said the archdiocese will follow up on cases as it receives information. (7)

Attempts to reach Sellentin have been unsuccessful.

The Schommer brothers described numerous incidents of sexual contact or advances made by Sellentin.

Steve and Tom Schommer, the oldest brother at 44, said they recalled incidents while on swimming trips to Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota. Sellentin touched him in a sexual way while in the showers, Steve said.

Tom said Sellentin tickled him, made inappropriate contact while wrestling and pressed against him from behind while posing for pictures.

"By the time you felt uncomfortable, it was too late," Tom said. "He had already done it."

About 10 years after he graduated from Spencer High School, Rick Schommer, 40, said Sellentin became the topic of conversation among about six men during an alumni event.

Within a half-hour, Rick said, at least a dozen people were saying that they had been abused.

"The comment was, 'You, too,'" he said.

Tom and Rick Schommer have a cell-phone and pager business, and Steve is a delivery driver.

As a result of the alleged abuse, Tom said he and Rick now have a low tolerance for gay men. In addition, Tom said, he has worried about adult supervision as he sent his kids away on church functions.

"I had to be there the whole time," Tom said.

Rick said he hopes parents listen to their children when they come forward with problems.

The brothers said they are talking openly now in hopes that other victims of sexual abuse will come forward.

The statute of limitations has expired for criminal charges. Under the Nebraska criminal statute, the limitation is seven years after an offense or seven years after the 16th birthday, whichever comes first. (7)

All three brothers said they want the Catholic Church held accountable for moving Sellentin from parish to parish even after being told that he was abusing children.

Tom and Rick said that accountability could come through a lawsuit. Steve said he has no intention of suing.

"It has nothing to do with money," he said. "It's right and wrong."

 
 

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