Isle Church Defense Struck down
Other Arguments Claim Negligence in Getting Help for Alleged Abuse

By Debra Barayuga
Honolulu Star - Bulletin (Hawaii)
September 17, 2002

A state judge has stricken one of the Catholic Church's defenses in a 40-year-old child molestation case that contended the victim had contributed to his injuries.

Circuit Judge Virginia Lea Crandall ruled that the defense was not necessary because it was already mentioned in more detail in other defenses listed by the church, including one that the plaintiff didn't take steps to minimize any damage he may have suffered.

Alexander Winchester in August had sued the Catholic Church and the estate of Alphonsus Boumeister, a former pastor and parish priest at St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Nuuanu, claiming he had been fondled or sexually assaulted on at least six occasions in 1961 when he was 11 years old.

Boumeister, a close friend of Winchester's family, died in 1972 at age 84.

Winchester, now 51, claimed he has suffered emotionally and psychologically as a result of the assaults. He had repressed his memories only to have them resurface recently over reports of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church.

As one of its defenses to the suit, the church noted that if in fact Winchester received the injuries or suffered any of the damages alleged in his complaint, the injuries or damages were caused by his "negligence and assumption of risk."

Philip Brown, Winchester's attorney, had argued that by asserting this defense, the church was alleging that Winchester, "as an 11-year-old boy attending Sunday School, assumed the risk of being sexually assaulted and molested by a priest charged with the spiritual development of a child."

In oral arguments yesterday, William Bordner, attorney for the Catholic Church, said his client never contended that Winchester was responsible for being molested, but was questioning the reasonableness of his conduct.

Winchester had claimed he had resisted the therapeutic suggestions of his healthcare providers and repressed his memories of the incidents until recently, which was why he didn't bring a claim until 40 years later, Bordner said.

"The allegations that he resisted the suggestions gave rise to whether the resistance was reasonable or not in that context," said Bordner.

Brown said as part of discovery in the case, he intends to find out how rampant this type of sexual behavior was in the Catholic Church in Hawaii.

"If it was like many other cities in the country, we intend to hold the church responsible," he said.

Brown said he does not intend to limit discovery to Boumeister but extend it to other priests that the church may have known about. "If there is a pattern of the church turning a blind eye to such behavior, that's a pattern the jury should know about."

No trial date has been set.


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