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  3rd Priest Identified as Abuser
John Starostka was Permanently Removed from his Ministry Because of Sexual Misconduct Allegations

By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald
August 17, 2002

Another longtime priest of the Omaha Archdiocese was identified Friday as a sexual abuser by Archbishop Elden Curtiss.

John Starostka, who retired in June as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in south Omaha, was one of three priests permanently removed from their ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors, Curtiss announced Friday.

For the two other priests, Thomas Sellentin and Anthony Petrusic, Curtiss was making permanent the action taken earlier this year when sexual abuse allegations against them surfaced.

The action means the three men cannot offer Mass publicly, wear clerical attire, use the title "father" or present themselves publicly as priests. The action stops short of laicization, a process requiring Vatican approval that formally returns a priest to the lay state.

The announcement in Friday's edition of the Catholic Voice gave no details about the allegations against Starostka. The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese, said Curtiss had not authorized him to release any details.

The announcement said "information had been gathered that included an admission of past sexual abuse or misconduct or allegations that were established as credible."

Starostka presided in Polish Masses at St. Francis of Assisi in his first assignment as a priest in 1961. He left St. Francis in 1968 and served various parishes before returning in 1997. He cited health problems when he retired in June. He could not be reached Friday.

The Rev. Ralph Steffensmeier, pastor at St. Anthony in Cedar Rapids, Neb., said Starostka was pastor there from 1983 to 1997. For part of that time, he also was pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Primrose. Steffensmeier said he did not know anything about the allegations against Starostka.

Former parishioners recalled that Starostka was at St. Cecilia Cathedral in the 1970s. Starostka also was pastor at St. Joseph in Platte Center, though parishioners there could not recall the exact years. Several former parishioners interviewed Friday night said they were unaware of sexual abuse allegations against Starostka.

The Rev. Damian Zuerlein, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Agnes parishes in Omaha, also took on St. Francis of Assisi after Starostka's retirement. Zuerlein also said he knew nothing about the allegations against Starostka. "It was such a surprise to me," Zuerlein said.

Curtiss revoked Sellentin's priestly faculties in March, citing allegations of sexual abuse in four parishes. The World-Herald interviewed men who said Sellentin abused them as youths in a fifth parish. The archdiocese has not disclosed his whereabouts, and attempts to reach Sellentin for comment have been unsuccessful.

Gutgsell said in March that Sellentin admitted sexually abusing boys.

Petrusic, who was pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Omaha from 1969 to 1988, retired in 1994 and lives in Hollywood, Fla. The Miami Archdiocese revoked his priestly faculties in April, after Gutgsell told them a man had told The World-Herald of abuse by Petrusic.

Willet Mather, who grew up in Omaha as Christopher Vetick, said Petrusic molested him in 1977. Mather says he told the Rev. Eldon McKamy, then the chancellor, about the abuse in 1987.

Petrusic was pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann from 1988 to 1990, then spent four years as president of the Croatian Catholic Union before retiring.

In June Petrusic denied the allegations through his attorney, Tim Kielty of Omaha. Kielty was out of his office Friday and did not return a phone call. A man who answered the phone at Petrusic's number in Florida said he was out of town.

Gutgsell sent a July 8 letter to Mather, saying he was sorry that Petrusic "took advantage of and abused you years ago" and that "your efforts to notify the Chancery in Omaha were not followed up with decisive action to address the situation you were subjected to and to make sure that no others were put at risk." (1)

The World-Herald learned that a second man told the archdiocese that Petrusic had abused him as a youth.

Mather said Friday that he was "just tickled to death to hear that they can no longer present themselves as priests and cannot be called 'father.' That's an important symbolic action."

Mather said the archdiocese "also needs to come clean with all the details of the incident involving him."

Gutgsell declined to release further details about the cases Friday. The announcement said the actions against the three priests are "effective immediately and for life." The men can appeal to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The priests will continue to receive a pension and are to live "a life of prayer and penance," the announcement said.

Also Friday, Curtiss announced the appointment of six members of a task force to help him choose members of an Archdiocesan Review Board to help implement the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted in June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The task force leader will be John Maginn of Omaha, a longtime member of St. Leo Parish in northwest Omaha.

Other members are Tom Dowd, senior trainer and material development specialist at Girls and Boys Town; Sister Marie Micheletto of the Archdiocesan Consultation Service; retired Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Moylan; Renee O'Brien of the Archdiocesan Social Ministry Commission; and Zuerlein.

In addition, the task force will include a member of the permanent diaconate, a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and a member of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.

 
 

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