Fifteen Sue Seven Priests from Oregon
The Alleged Abuse Victims Seek More Than $70 Million
By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal [Salem OR]
November 19, 2002
In a new round of sexual-abuse litigation against Roman Catholic clergy in Oregon, 15 men and women filed suit Monday against seven priests, accusing the clergy of preying on them decades ago.
They are seeking more than $70 million in damages from the Catholic Church. The claims came in five lawsuits brought in courts in Marion and Multnomah counties.
All of the plaintiffs are represented by Salem lawyer Daniel Gatti.
A dozen plaintiffs claim they were molested by four priests with ties to the Mount Angel Abbey, a 120-year-old monastery about 20 miles east of Salem. Three of the four priests were named earlier this year as defendants in sexual abuse lawsuits pending in Marion County.
Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the Portland archdiocese, which is the governing body for the church, said he would not comment on the suits because he had not seen them.
During the past three years, more than 100 men and women have accused more than two dozen Roman Catholic clergy in Oregon of sexual abuse in lawsuits against the Portland archdiocese and the Diocese of Baker, which cover western and eastern Oregon respectively.
Those lawsuits are part of a sexual abuse scandal that has swept the U.S. Catholic Church. More than 300 priests have been removed from the ministry this year.
Last week, U.S. bishops approved a national policy pledging to permanently remove from the ministry any priest who admits or is found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor.
Bunce said Monday the Archdiocese of Portland has a policy designed to protect children and requiring the mandatory reporting of abuse to law enforcement.
Four Marion County lawsuits, filed Monday on behalf of 14 men and women, make allegations against six priests.
Three men - Thomas Heidt, Joey Houser and Gary Schoenberger - accuse the Rev. Pacome St. Arnaud, also known as the Rev. Jocelyn St. Arnaud, of sexually abusing them during the mid- and late-1970s.
Heidt, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., originally filed suit against St. Arnaud in May, alleging that the priest molested him during the summer of 1976. Heidt then was 17 and approaching his senior year at Mount Angel Seminary Preparatory High School for boys. He said the priest sexually assaulted him on a camping trip.
Court papers filed Monday allege that Heidt confided in other priests, saying he had been sexually abused by St. Arnaud. Despite that disclosure, the priest allegedly was transferred to a new parish in the eastern Oregon town of Elgin. There, he allegedly molested two more boys - Houser and Schoenberger.
The lawsuit maintains the Portland archdiocese "encouraged the Baker Diocese to accept a known child sexual predator as a parish priest."
It claims church officials allowed the priest to change his name, ostensibly to conceal his sexual misconduct.
Gatti said evidence gathered for the lawsuit shows that St. Arnaud had a history of sexually abusing children at a juvenile center in Canada before coming to Oregon, and that church officials knew it. He said the case illustrates a recurring problem in the national Catholic Church scandal: transferring priests from parish to parish, despite records of abuse.
"They knew he was an abusing priest in Canada and (Mount Angel)," Gatti said. "Instead of facing that reality, they did a coverup, ignoring the victims and putting the priest into a new fishing hole."
Gatti said St. Arnaud died in 1992.
The lawsuits raise allegations against other priests with connections to the Mount Angel Abbey: Three men, identified only by their initials, accuse the Rev. Kenneth Jacques of sexually abusing them during the late 1970s, when they were students at the Mount Angel seminary high school. The plaintiffs allege that Jacques molested the boys while taking them on recruiting trips to eastern Oregon, California and Klamath Falls.
According to the suit, "Jacques maintained a pattern of known, open, obvious and notorious sexual misconduct directed at students" and was repeatedly caught by fellow priests in "sexually compromising positions with students."
Jacques served as principal of the prep school from 1975 through 1979. The school closed in 1979.
Earlier this year, Andrew Fletcher of Portland filed a Marion County lawsuit alleging Jacques molested him during a 1978 trip to San Francisco. Fletcher then was a 16-year-old student at the seminary.
After the lawsuit was filed, Jacques was placed on administrative leave by Catholic Church officials and removed from his duties at the Sacred Heart Parish in Gervais, north of Salem. Since then, his duties have been restricted to the Mount Angel Abbey.
Rita Cernyar of Portland and three other women identified only by their initials accuse the Rev. Louis Charvet of sexually abusing them during the 1960s.
The suit says Charvet used his position of authority at the abbey to gain the friendship and admiration of underage girls and to "groom" them for sexual abuse.
"He began to socialize with plaintiffs and to spend time alone with them," court papers say. "Next, Charvet used his position of trust to touch the plaintiffs physically. Eventually, Charvet committed a series of sexual assaults on plaintiffs."
The sexual assaults occurred in Charvet's office, at church, in his residence and in the woods surrounding the abbey, according to the suit.
Charvet was named earlier this year as a defendant in a Multnomah County lawsuit filed by a Washington man, who accused the priest of using sexually explicit language and of masturbating in front of him in the late 1950s. At the time, Charvet ran a dorm for seminary students.
After the Multnomah County suit was filed, Charvet was recalled to the abbey from his duties at Sacred Heart Church in nearby Gervais.
A man identified only by his initials accuses the Rev. Emanuel Clark of sexually abusing him in 1975. The plaintiff then was a student at the Mount Angel seminary high school. Clark sexually abused the boy when he turned to the clergyman for counseling, the suit says.
Clark is deceased, according to Gatti.
A man identified only by his initials accuses the Rev. Cosmas White of sexually abusing him in 1964 while he was a student at the high school. White served at the school as a teacher and a priest, the suit says. Gatti said the priest now lives in Silverton.
Following are more allegations brought Monday against Oregon priests: Two women identified only by their initials allege in another Marion County suit that they were sexually abused by a former Woodburn priest in the late 1960s. The lawsuit alleges that when the women were 6 or 7 years old, they were abused six to 10 times by a priest identified as "Father Duffy."
Duffy then was a priest at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Woodburn, according to the suit.
Gatti said he did not know if Duffy was still alive.
In a Multnomah County suit, Sheilah Callahan of Portland alleges that around 1950, when she was about 11, she was sexually abused by a priest named Aloysius A. O'Doherty. According to the suit, O'Doherty served in Portland, Astoria, San Diego and Medford. Gatti said he did not know if O'Doherty is still alive.
At one time, according to court papers, O'Doherty served as a parish priest with the Rev. Thomas Laughlin at St. Rose of Liam Catholic Church in Portland.
Laughlin was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual abuse in 1983 for abusing altar boys. He no longer is an active priest. Several former altar boys now are suing Laughlin for alleged sexual abuse.
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