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  Tulsa Diocese: Report Details Abuse Claims

By Shaun Schafer
Tulsa World [Oklahoma]
August 17, 2002

A newsletter insert into a Catholic attempts to clarify what the diocese knew about abuse allegations, when it knew and how it reacted. Tulsa Diocese leaders responded to public allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests with a special insert in a Catholic newsletter that started arriving at local homes and churches Saturday.

Titled "Seeking the Light," the insert in the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic attempts to detail what the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa knew about abuse allegations, when it knew and how it reacted.

The insert details the allegations against the Rev. Kenneth Lewis, the Rev. Paul Eichhoff and John Jangam. Lewis, Eichhoff and Jangam have each denied any wrongdoing. None of them has been charged with a crime.

On Friday, Linda La Porte, the mother of the girl allegedly abused by Jangam, expressed surprise over the publication of details of the investigation.

"I had no idea they were going to publish it," she said Friday. "I think they at least should have called me before publishing."

Diocese Chancellor Henry Harder said the information gathered during the church investigations was often received confidentially. Efforts were made to preserve that confidentiality in preparing the report.

Before adding details to what has been reported in the Tulsa World and investigated by the diocese, Bishop Edward Slattery wrote that he accepted a share of the blame for not being vigilant enough in safeguarding the ways "in which children and minors interact within the structures of parish" life.

"I will be more stringent in interpreting patterns of behavior, more vigilant in the ways I oversee diocesan offices, more accountable to you and to my priests, and more open; but also more demanding of you and of them," Slattery says in his letter. "All of us must remember that we are equally bound by the moral laws of Christ."

Slattery notes that his heart has always been moved by the innocence and "loving trust" of children.

"But because that innocence may have been compromised and that trust may have been abused here in the Diocese by the very men whom I assigned to your parishes to lead you to Christ, I feel obliged to share with you everything I knew and when I knew it," he wrote. "I want this open and forthright disclosure of the facts to be the essential first step in restoring moral credibility in the church."

The insert then details the allegations against Lewis, Eichhoff and Jangam.

Lewis Lewis resigned as pastor of a McAlester church in July after a renewed investigation into claims that he improperly touched young boys. The claims involved conduct in 1993 and 1994 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa.

According to the diocese narrative, parents of a then-12-year- old boy alleged that on an unspecified Sunday night in November 1993 Lewis had inappropriate contact with their son. The boy had been in the care of a parish youth minister when Lewis offered to take the boy out to eat, according to the narrative.

Lewis took the boy to a restaurant and later gave him a private tour of the bell tower at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, according to the diocese. In the tower, Lewis and the boy carved their initials. Lewis, according to the mother's comments to the diocese, told the boy that the carving was "their secret."

Later, after driving the boy home, Lewis allegedly told the boy to get ready for bed. Lewis allegedly followed the boy upstairs to his bedroom where he lay down on the bed with the boy, according to the allegations recounted in the insert.

The boy's baby sitter returned to the home and discovered the priest and the boy in bed with the lights out. She reported finding a clothed Lewis massaging the boy's back under his pajama top.

Neither the parents nor anyone else suggested in 1994 that more than a back rub occurred, according to the diocese account.

The diocese investigated the incident, it reported, and determined that there was no crime to report. Instead, Slattery removed Lewis from his position at the Church of St. Mary and sent him to St. Luke's Hospital, a nationally recognized psychiatric treatment facility in Maryland, according to the diocese. Lewis returned to Tulsa in late summer 1995.

"As a condition for his return to active ministry, Bishop Slattery imposed a number of stipulations upon Lewis," according to the narrative. "These included the necessity of his working with experienced priest mentors and his giving continual evidence of having learned acceptable personal boundaries.

"Practically speaking, this second stipulation meant that Lewis was not to be alone with minors," the insert states.

Lewis reportedly accepted these conditions and was assigned in September 1995 as associate pastor at Holy Family. In June 1996, Lewis was reassigned as pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Fairfax. In May 1998 he was allowed to have his residency in Fairfax. Three years later, in June 2001, Lewis was reassigned to St. John the Evangelist Parish in McAlester.

In response to continued requests from parents of the boy and as national furor over allegations of sexual abuse and clerical coverups in Boston, Slattery authorized a new church investigation of Lewis. Five days later, on May 14, the Rev. Michael Knipe was named to head the investigation.

Interviews with the first family and 16 further interviews, some of them in Tulsa, but others in Pawhuska, Fairfax, Cleveland, Hominy, McAlester and Krebs, were conducted in June, according to the diocese. Knipe completed the investigation on June 20.

After considering the issues and consulting a canon lawyer -- and attorney versed in church law -- Slattery determined that the facts presented at that time did not merit a canonical penalty. However, further allegations convinced the bishop that Lewis could not "function effectively in the priesthood," according to the insert.

"Accordingly, Bishop Slattery invited Lewis to resign his pastorates, which he did," the narrative details. "This was effective on July 22, 2002."

Jangam Jangam, a native of India, was serving as pastor of St. Mark's Catholic Church in Pryor in 1999 when he was excommunicated. According to the church, he was excommunicated for revealing details from a confessional while denying allegations of improper contact with a 13-year- old girl. Jangam, who had been in Oklahoma on a religious worker's visa since 1997, was returned to India a few days later.

The insert claims that Jangam violated the seal of the confessional while denying that he had "hugged and kissed" the girl while the two watched TV at the rectory.

Monsignor Dennis Dorney, vicar general of the Diocese of Tulsa, reportedly excommunicated Jangam on Aug. 4, 1999, the day after allegations of improper relations with the girl surfaced. The excommunication, which excludes a person from receiving communion and bars a priest from presiding over worship ceremonies, rendered Jangam's visa void. Jangam, according to the diocese, returned to India on Aug. 7, 1999.

Dorney, according to the diocese, contacted the girl's mother that same day. He offered to get the girl counseling and went so far as to name possible counselors. The woman said she would discuss the offer with her husband, according to the narrative.

St. Mark's parishioners were told in 1999 that Jangam returned to India to be with an ailing parent.

"This was not the whole truth but it was the bishop's determination that any information regarding Jangam's breaking the seal or his resultant excommunication would be needless and possibly harmful," the insert states. "Nor did the Diocese inform the parish of the girl's allegation."

The latter step was taken to protect the privacy of the child and her parents, according to the diocese publication.

This spring, the girl expressed concerns over the handling of Jangam's case and that he might be working with children in India. Her contact with church officials continued for several months, the publication details. Over time, the girl's allegations expanded from hugging and kissing to Jangam fondling her breasts under her clothing and touching her genitalia.

After meeting with the girl earlier this month, Knipe said he now believed that she was sexually assaulted. Knipe said earlier this week that he contacted the Pryor police after meeting with the girl and her mother.

Pryor police have continued their investigation. Chief Dennis Nichols said investigators have spoken with the alleged victim and the District Attorney's Office there. No charges have been filed and no definitive time for turning the investigation over to the DA's office has been set, Nichols said Friday.

Eichoff Eichhoff was placed on administrative leave Aug. 1 following claims that he had sexual con tact with two minors at St. Mary's 25 years ago. Eichhoff has filed a slander lawsuit in Tulsa District Court, stating that a Tulsa man and his father have falsely accused him of child sexual assault and molestation.

Noting the lawsuit, the insert provides few details on the accusations. While the allegations involving Lewis and Jangam take several pages each, the allegations against Eichhoff fill only eight paragraphs.

The allegations stem from events that may have taken place between 1977 and 1979 were evaluated following the "spirit" of the charter on sexual abuse of minors adopted by bishops meeting in Dallas in June. The charter calls for a thorough investigation to determine the credibility of any allegation against a priest or other church employee.

"The investigation raised certain questions regarding the credibility of the complaint," the insert notes. "There was nothing to substantiate the claim, no corroborating evidence, the alleged victim refused to name two key witnesses and the accused priest, who denies the allegations, can point to a lengthy record of unblemished service in the diocese."

Meanwhile, Tulsa Police Department's investigation of two cases involving priests accused of sexual abuse continues. Police have declined to name the priests, but they expect to turn over the results of their investigation to District Attorney Tim Harris next week.

 
 

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