Church's Lawyer Knew in 2000 About Sellentin Abuse Reports

By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World-Herald
June 9, 2002

An attorney for the current leadership of the Omaha Archdiocese knew about old reports of abuse by the Rev. Thomas Sellentin almost two years before Archbishop Elden Curtiss removed the priest from his ministry.

Curtiss forced Sellentin into early retirement April 7, citing reports of abuse dating back more than 30 years.

The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor for the archdiocese, said at the time that Curtiss had only learned of the abuse recently after a victim came forward, prompted by this year's news coverage of abuse cases in Boston and around the country.

Gutgsell said the archdiocese had not known about the abuse, but acted quickly after learning about it. Gutgsell said Sellentin admitted abusing boys when Curtiss asked him.

In the cases of Sellentin and Daniel Herek, the priest who went to prison in 1998 for abusing an altar boy, Gutgsell and Curtiss have said they knew nothing about reports of abuse before Curtiss became archbishop in 1993.

However, a previous chancellor, the Rev. James Cain, brought up the Sellentin case two years ago in a deposition for civil lawsuits filed by former altar boys who say Herek abused them. Attorney William Johnson, who is defending the archdiocese in the lawsuits, was present for the deposition.

Cain was chancellor from 1969 to 1981 under Archbishop Daniel Sheehan, who retired in 1993 and died in 2000. Cain is now pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Springfield. He also holds two positions, defender of the bond and promoter of justice, in the Metropolitan Tribunal, the appeals court for the archdiocese.

Cain has declined to discuss his April 2000 deposition. Citing a judge's admonition that parties not discuss the Herek lawsuits, Gutgsell would not comment last week on whether Johnson briefed archdiocesan officials on Cain's testimony. Johnson also would not comment.

Cain testified April 12, 2000, answering questions from attorneys for the former altar boys. An attorney asked whether Cain ever heard about sexual misconduct by priests when he was chancellor. Cain responded that a priest "had touched boys improperly, allegedly." He estimated that the allegation surfaced in the early 1970s.

The priest "was sent for treatment," Cain said, without saying where the priest was treated.

Asked for the priest's name, Cain named Sellentin.

In World-Herald interviews after Sellentin's forced retirement, other priests said they told the archdiocese about abuse allegations involving Sellentin in the late 1960s and in 1980.

The archdiocese policy on sexual abuse says a priest who admits to, does not contest or is found guilty of an incident of sexual misconduct will be suspended from his ministerial duties following canon law.

On March 5, during the controversy following the arrest of the Rev. Robert Allgaier for viewing child pornography, Curtiss said, "The archdiocese is on record for having a zero-tolerance level for sexual abuse of children."

The archbishop reaffirmed that stance later in March on his radio program on the Catholic station, KVSS: "Anyone guilty of child abuse will not be given a second chance to be a priest. ... Any time there is an accusation that is verified of child abuse in this archdiocese by anyone, they're out of the ministry."

In April, in announcing that he had removed Sellentin as pastor of parishes in North Bend and Snyder, Curtiss said, "I will apply our policy with a zero tolerance when it comes to child abuse, no matter when it takes place."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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