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  Prosecutor Won't Charge Archbishop In a Letter
Elden Curtiss Apologizes For Comments That had been Scrutinized for Possible Witness Tampering
By Chris Olson
Omaha World Herald
June 10, 2002

The Madison County attorney will not file witness-tampering charges against Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss after a letter of apology from Curtiss was read during Sunday Masses at Sacred Heart Church in Norfolk.

County Attorney Joe Smith said the letter referred to the archbishop's rebuke of a Norfolk Catholic kindergarten teacher who reported to police that the Rev. Robert Allgaier, a former teacher at Norfolk Catholic High School, allegedly had viewed child pornography on a church computer.

Smith said the letter was read to him last week by an archdiocesean official.

Curtiss reportedly told the teacher, Linda Hammond, in May that she shouldn't have reported Allgaier to police. She approached Curtiss at Sacred Heart Church after a morning Mass for students. Hammond has said that Curtiss told her that the matter had been handled, that she had ruined a man's life and that she should resign.

Attempts to reach Hammond on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Smith said he found Curtiss' letter, which was addressed to "the Catholic people of Norfolk," to be "sincere and heartfelt."

The most significant aspect of the letter is that the archbishop said Hammond unequivocally was correct in going to police about Allgaier, Smith said.

"It looked like the archbishop and I were going hand to hand pretty hard on this," Smith said. "But I believe he has come around and seen things correctly and truly believes Linda Hammond is an honest person who tried to help."

Even though Curtiss may not have intended to tamper with Hammond as a witness in Allgaier's coming trial, Smith said, the issue was the archbishop's indication that she should resign.

Smith said Curtiss' letter indicated no "backtracking or backsliding" on the importance of reporting such serious issues as child pornography.

"I truly believe, and I hope I am right," Smith said, "that the archbishop thinks the whole issue of child pornography is a serious one that needs for people like Linda Hammond to come forward and show some grit and stand up for these things."

Prior to Curtiss' letter, Smith said, he and the archbishop's attorney had discussed how to most appropriately address the issue and had talked about alternatives to charges.

"I always hoped when it got down to this point that the archbishop and I would see things the same way," Smith said.

The letter is Curtiss' second apology related to the Allgaier case. In March, Curtiss apologized for rebuking two Catholics who wrote to The World-Herald criticizing his decision to reassign Allgaier.

The archbishop, who had urged parishioners to talk with him privately, later apologized for his letters. He said at a Holy Week Mass that he meant to begin a process of reconciliation.

He also said in March that he regretted keeping Allgaier in parish ministry after learning of the child-pornography allegations.

In the letter read Sunday, Curtiss said that he was wrong in saying that Hammond should resign her job and that Hammond was right to report information on Allgaier to authorities, Smith said.

"The archbishop said he was under stress at the time and hoped everyone would forgive him," Smith said. "I know I certainly do."

Archbishop Curtiss' letter

To the Catholic people of Norfolk,

Peace and reconciliation in the Lord!

Because of the many issues surrounding the case against Father Rob Allgaier, I must move now to help bring about peace and reconciliation within the Catholic Community in Norfolk and with me as your shepherd and leader.

First of all, I give my full support to Father Dave Belt your pastor. He has been caught for many months in the crossfire of issues surrounding the Allgaier case. He has done his best to reconcile issues and support everyone involved, including me. He is a competent and caring pastor. He needs my full support and yours if he is going to survive as leader of this parish. I will therefore back his decisions and actions to bring about peace and reconciliation for everyone in this parish.

Secondly, I apologize to Linda Hammond for asking her to resign her teaching position at Sacred Heart School. She was correct in her decision to report the child pornography viewing to the local police. We need honest, forthright teachers in our schools who will report misconduct to appropriate officials. I reacted negatively to her because I was caught off guard immediately after celebrating Mass. I am sorry for my angry words to her.

Thirdly, I will continue to support Father Rob Allgaier in his present predicament. He is like a son to me. I ordained him to priesthood four years ago and I know his basic goodness. He will be helped to face honestly the causes of his involvement in child pornography. He will be helped to recover his health and dignity as a son of God. We will do everything we can to return him to priestly ministry in time so that he can use his faith and talents in service to the people of God.

I have had many pressures these past months which have taken their toll on me. But I have to learn to be a patient pastor to everyone in our archdiocese regardless of the misunderstandings and tensions and conflicting values. I have to be the spiritual leader of Norfolk, as well as all the other communities in the archdiocese, which means I must control my frustrations and my irritations in the face of constant pressures - and above all else I have to be a man of prayer and love.

I hope, despite my obvious shortcomings and mistakes at times, that you will recognize my love for Christ and his Church, and my love for all the people of Norfolk. I ask that we move through the conflicts of these past months and be reconciled with each other so that we can get on with the mission of the Church. There is so much to be done by all of us to strengthen our faith and to share what we have together with others. We have to be Church together.

I am sincerely yours in the Lord,

Most Reverend Elden Francis Curtiss

Archbishop of Omaha

 
 

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