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  Report: Sexual Abuse Took Place in Diocese

By Bob Scott
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)
February 1, 2004

A report released Wednesday by the Lafayette Catholic Diocese details that 18 priests have been accused of sexually abusing 26 minors since 1950.

Accusations were deemed credible against nine of the diocesan priests, who were removed from ministry, the diocese reported. No criminal charges were ever filed, according to the report, which focused solely on cases prior to 1986.

"I cannot begin to explain the ache in my heart for those who have been abused," Bishop William L. Higi said in a written statement posted Wednesday on the diocese's Web site.

"I hold them up to the Lord in my daily prayers, begging God to bring them to healing. I pray also for those who have perpetrated these horrific acts, that they will recognize what they have done and accept the penance demanded of them.

"I pray, too, for the priests who have suffered through false accusations, as well as those who are tortured by the shame thrust upon priesthood and the church by those who have perpetrated sexual abuse."

The report, which was prepared by diocesan officials and will be published in the Jan. 4 Catholic Moment, was timed to the Jan. 6 release of a national audit of sexual abuse in Roman Catholic dioceses by the Gavin Group of Winthrop, Mass. Two more national reports are scheduled to be released Feb. 27.

"This is a complete statement of facts as best we can determine," Higi said in a statement to the Journal and Courier.

"I invite all interested persons to view this information in our Catholic newspaper, or it can be accessed on the Internet ... We also are happy to provide the full text of this information to any person who requests it."

Three of the priests who had credible charges made against them have died, the diocese said.

Two lawsuits were filed against the diocese and others, one of which was dismissed, the diocese said.

According to the diocesan report, one nonordained church employee and one volunteer also had been accused of sexual abuse by minors.

Higi became bishop in June 1984. The report said that first "credible" sexual abuse allegation of a minor was brought to his attention in July 1988.

In his weekly column in the Catholic Moment, Higi also offered another public apology to sexual abuse victims and all Catholics in the diocese.

"I apologize once more to victims-survivors for the times the church has failed to walk with them or to understand their pain. Only a victim-survivor can, I suspect, truly understand the depth of the nightmare abuse causes."

Based in Lafayette, the mainly north-central Indiana diocese covers 24 counties from Illinois to Ohio, going as far north as Rochester and as far south as Boone County, just northwest of Indianapolis.

According to a 2003 directory, the diocese is made of six deaneries - Anderson, Carmel, Fowler, Lafayette, Logansport and Muncie. With more than 60 parishes, the diocese has nearly 100,000 members from 33,500 households.

In 1997, Higi came under fire after an Indianapolis Star and News newspaper series detailed sexual misconduct among Lafayette diocesan priests.

The series alleged that during the previous 25 years, at least 16 current and former diocesan priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors or sexual misconduct with adults. The newspaper's series also reported that the diocesan officials admitted to 12 "troubled priests" and as many as 40 victims in the previous 12 years.

Wednesday's diocesan report did not name any of the priests, with Higi stating only that, "All credible incidents of child abuse predate 1986. ... It is also important for victims-survivors to understand what was done to them was not their fault."

Since Higi created the policy dictating how diocesan officials review abuse complaints, Catholic administrators have dealt with claims in different ways. Accusers have taken their allegations to court.

In 1995, a Kokomo woman sued the late Monsignor Arthur A. Sego, claiming the priest molested her in 1968 while serving at St. Patrick's Church in Kokomo. Tippecanoe Superior Court Judge Donald Johnson dismissed the case because the statute of limitations expired. Sego died from a stroke in September 1998.

In 1997, Debra H. Kulka sued the Lafayette diocese in U.S. District Court, claiming it failed to protect her from Rev. Donald Eder. She claimed Eder fondled her breasts several times between 1993 and 1997. That lawsuit ended in a confidential settlement.

Eder remains assigned to St. Patrick Church in Oxford.

In 2002, Therese Byerly made similar allegations against Eder and claimed the diocese did not adequately investigate her claim. Diocesan officials said they followed the policy created by Higi's administration and the review board failed to substantiate her claim.

According to the Indianapolis Star's 1997 investigation of the Lafayette diocese:

* Rev. Ken Bohlinger allegedly played sex games with boys. He left the priesthood.

* Rev. Ken Voss allegedly sexually abused teenage boys. He resigned his ministry and moved to Haiti.

* Rev. Raymond Wieber allegedly abused male teens at St. Lawrence Church in Muncie. He died in 1993.

* Rev. Donald Tracey allegedly abused high school and college students. He was removed from his job at Central Catholic High School. He died in 1989.

In his Jan. 4 column, Higi reminded people that the nine priests represent 3 percent of the 295 diocesan priests who have served in the diocese

Higi reiterated in his column that "decisive steps have been taken in this diocese to address the crime of sexual abuse." Listed in the report is the way to report sexual abuse by clergy, lay ministers or diocesan volunteers. The names of the Diocesan Review Board for all sexual abuse claims also are listed.

The diocesan report said $555,586 has been spent on victims, perpetrators and lawyers since July 1988. Detailed financial records of money spent on sexual abuse allegations do not exist prior to that year.

A total of $147,201 was spent for medications and therapy for victims; $324,007 for medications and therapy for perpetrators; and $84,378 for attorney fees.

The report also explained that no legal settlements have been paid. Funds to meet these expenditures came from insurance and diocesan operating funds. A total of $99,301 was paid by insurance, it said.

Lafayette is the third Indiana diocese in 2003 to issue reports about sexual abuse cases that have happened since 1950.

On Dec. 11, Bishop John D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese reported that 33 minors were sexually abused by 16 Roman Catholic priests since 1950.

On Dec. 18, Evansville Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger reported that 15 priests had been accused of sexually abusing 22 minors. Three were found innocent, four admitted to the allegations and were removed from ministry, and eight were dead by the time the allegations were brought against them, and those cases were not investigated.

Bishop Dale J. Melczek is scheduled to release statistics for the Gary diocese on Friday.

- Contributing: Joe Thomas/ jthomas@journalandcourier.com

Diocesan Review Board

Catholic Diocese has established the Diocesan Review Board, which advises the bishop about allegations of sexual abuse of minors. The review board answers two basic questions:

* Do the allegations conform to the definition of child abuse of a minor as outlined in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

* Are the allegations credible, i.e., worthy of belief?

A list of the review board's nine members:

* Jason Dombkowski of Lafayette, a West Lafayette police officer.

* Kathi Lange of Attica, a family therapist.

* Cindy Marion of Lafayette, a West Lafayette police detective.

* Jerry Mattern of Attica, a social worker.

* Sister Lois Ann Meyer, superintendent of Catholic schools.

* Father Theodore Rothrock, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Carmel.

* Roxanne Brunsman of Anderson, a psychiatric nurse.

* Msgr. Robert L. Sell, vicar general of the diocese.

* Charles "Max" Layden, a Lafayette attorney in private practice.

What's next?

The Gavin Group audit will be released on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The report will be posted on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Web site (www. usccb.org) after 10 a.m. The audit evaluates how each diocese has handled complaints of sexual abuse.

 
 

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