Local Priest Named in Suit
A Former Mount Angel Clergyman Is Accused of Sexual Battery
By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal [Salem OR]
May 3, 2002
As Thomas Heidt remembers it, the sexual abuse happened after the Mount Angel Abbey priest got "pretty lit up" drinking Canadian whiskey and plied him with beer.
It was the summer of 1976. Heidt, then 17 and approaching his senior year at the Mount Angel Seminary Preparatory High School for boys, was on a camping trip with "Father Pacome," his spiritual mentor.
Heidt said he woke up during the night and discovered the priest was performing oral sex on him. "I froze up and started saying prayers," Heidt said.
Nearly 26 years later, Heidt filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Thursday, accusing Pacome of sexual battery and the Mount Angel Abbey of covering it up.
THE suit names as defendants the Archdiocese of Portland and the archbishop, the Mount Angel Abbey and the order of Benedictine monks that founded the abbey in 1882 and continues to live and work there.
Heidt, 43, of Vancouver, Wash., claims in the suit that, because of the sexual abuse, he suffers from alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder and a stress-induced skin condition. He seeks $5 million in damages.
The suit is one of six that have been filed in the past three weeks in Marion and Multnomah counties, accusing eight priests of raping and sexually molesting boys decades ago in Mount Angel, Gervais, Oregon City and a Washington County treatment center for Catholic youths.
The archdiocese, which is the governing body for the church, had no immediate comment on the latest suit or the allegations against "Father Pacome," whose first name was not known by Heidt.
"We're not going to have a statement on him today because we don't know who he is at all," said Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "We don't have a clue who we're talking about here."
Officials at the Mount Angel Abbey did not return a phone call seeking comment on the suit.
Heidt's complaint is the third suit alleging sexual abuse by priests at the preparatory school. The two other suits allege that the Rev. Kenneth Jacques sexually molested teen-age boys during trips to San Francisco and Klamath Falls in 1978.
Jacques worked at the preparatory school from 1975 until 1979. He was principal when the school closed in 1979, ending an era of education stretching back nearly a century.
A newspaper story published in June 1979 linked the closure to dwindling enrollment. The 37 students enrolled at the school in 1979 compared with a peak enrollment of 120 in 1962.
As the school closed in 1979, Jacques said he was uncertain what effect it would have on the future supply of priests for the area. "This is a question all over the country. Just how we will prepare people moving in that direction, I don't know," he said.
Jacques recently was called back to the abbey from the Sacred Heart parish in nearby Gervais.
Heidt describe "Father Pacome" as his spiritual guide at the preparatory school. Prior to the sexual abuse, he said, he revered him.
"It pretty much blew my concept of reality," Heidt said, referring to the abuse and its aftermath.
After the summer camping incident, Heidt's grades slipped from straight As to failing. "I gave up," he said.
During one meeting between supervising priests and students, Heidt responded with an angry retort when the priests asked the boys what they would like to see changed at the school.
At that point, Heidt's suit says, he was called into a "confessional," where he revealed what Pacome had done to him. He was told not to discuss it anywhere else, according to the suit.
"Therefore, they can hide behind the clerical privilege so they don't have to notify the authorities or anyone else," said Dan Gatti, a Salem lawyer representing Heidt.
Once supervising priests became aware of the abuse, Gatti said, Pacome was transferred quietly to an isolated parish in the Eastern Oregon town of Elgin.
"I'm not saying there was a coverup at Mount Angel, but if these allegations are true, there appears to have been a coverup at Mount Angel," Gatti said.
Heidt said he buried the incident from his memory. But the trauma resurfaced about 18 months ago, when he was driving through Eastern Oregon.
By happenstance, Heidt said he drove into the town of Elgin. He started to cry as he realized this was the place Father Pacome had been transferred to long ago, following Heidt's disclosures about the camping trip.
"It all came rushing back," Heidt said of the repressed memories. He said he pulled off to the side of the road and threw up.
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