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  Curtiss: I Didn't Try to Sway Witness
A Norfolk Teacher Says the Archbishop told her to Resign for Reporting a Priest

By David Hendee
Omaha World Herald
May 17, 2002

Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss said Friday he did not try to influence a potential witness in the child pornography case involving a former Norfolk priest.

His statement was in response to one from Madison County Attorney Joe Smith Thursday. Smith said Curtiss could be charged with witness tampering after a conversation with the witness, a Catholic school kindergarten teacher from Norfolk.

After meeting teacher Linda Hammond and learning that she was responsible for alerting authorities to a priest who allegedly viewed child pornography on a computer, Curtiss reportedly told her that she should resign.

"I remember ... walking down Madison Avenue and thinking this didn't go the way I thought it would," Hammond said.

Hammond does not plan to resign and is not expected to lose her job.

Smith said he is awaiting additional police reports before he decides whether to file charges.

"It's premature to say he'll be charged," Smith said of Curtiss. "The incident occurred. The police had an obligation to investigate. I have an obligation to look into it."

Curtiss said in a statement that his encounter with Hammond was brief and came at her initiative.

"I share her concern for children and acknowledge her dedicated professional life to the education of children. However, I felt she chose an inappropriate place and manner of approaching me," Curtiss said.

"Since I did not seek out Mrs. Hammond and did not invite contact with her, the idea that I attempted to influence her role in the forthcoming trial ... is incorrect."

Curtiss added that he has had no contact with Norfolk authorities and hopes "this incident will be recognized as a spontaneous and emotionally charged encounter in an ill-chosen place and time."

The incident took place nine days ago after Curtiss celebrated a morning Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Norfolk for students at Sacred Heart School.

Hammond said she introduced herself to Curtiss near the sanctuary. He did not recognize her name until she told him, "I was the one who went to the police about Father Allgaier."

The Rev. Robert Allgaier is a former Norfolk priest who faces trial in June on a misdemeanor count of attempted possession of child pornography.

Hammond said Curtiss replied: "I'm sorry you did this. You shouldn't have done this. We had it handled. You ruined a man's life."

She said Curtiss told her that Allgaier probably would never serve as a priest again and added, "I'd appreciate it if you'd resign."

Hammond said she told Curtiss that she didn't appreciate the way he was talking to her. Curtiss told her to resign at least one more time during the few minutes they talked. There were two adult witnesses, Hammond said.

Hammond said she told Curtiss that she alerted police last October because of her concern for the safety of children. Curtiss did not respond to that comment, she said.

Hammond alerted authorities that two former Sacred Heart students had found evidence in January 2001 that indicated Allgaier viewed child pornography on a church computer. Court records said Allgaier admitted to Curtiss in February 2001 that he had viewed child pornography up to four times a week, for several hours each time.

Curtiss removed Allgaier from his teaching duties at Norfolk Catholic High School and ordered him to abstain from contact with children outside worship services. The church had Allgaier evaluated by a psychologist, and the priest entered counseling.

In June, Curtiss transferred Allgaier to St. Gerald's Catholic Church in Ralston, where the priest's duties included teaching religion at St. Joan of Arc-St. Gerald Middle School in Omaha. He remained at the Ralston parish until he was arrested in February and charged.

Smith said a charge of witness tampering requires the prosecution to show that the purpose of Curtiss' remarks were to dissuade Hammond from testifying at Allgaier's trial.

"It may or may not be that," Smith said. "The resolution may not be in the context of a criminal proceeding. Not all conduct that is upsetting is criminal in nature."

Smith has criticized the archbishop for not coming forward with the evidence against Allgaier. He said Curtiss knew for eight months that Allgaier had viewed pornography before Hammond came forward.

"If it hadn't been for Linda Hammond, the people of the Norfolk parish would not have known, the people of St. Gerald's parish would not have known and the police would not have known" about Allgaier, Smith said. "Any evidence we have is the result of her exemplary citizenship."

 
 

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