Dismisses Priest Accused of Abusing Boys
Reports against Sellentin came from 4 parishes; Retired judge recalls meeting about abuse in 60s
By Doug Alden
April 8, 2002
OMAHA -- The archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha has dismissed and granted early retirement to a priest accused of sexually abusing boys more than 30 years ago.
The Rev. Thomas Sellentin, 62, will no longer serve as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Bend and St. Leo Parish in Snyder, Archbishop Elden Curtiss said in a statement released Sunday.
"I have stated that I will apply our policy with a zero tolerance when it comes to child abuse, no matter when it takes place. I am keeping my word," the statement said.
The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor of the archdiocese, said Curtiss was not immediately available for comment Monday.
There was no telephone listing for Sellentin. Messages left by The Associated Press on Sunday night and Monday at both his former parishes were not immediately returned.
Gutgsell said the accusations against Sellentin have come in recently as the Catholic Church as a whole has been flooded with claims of abuse by priests. Abuse reports against Sellentin were received from four Nebraska parishes, including St. Joan of Arc of Omaha, St. Mary in West Point, St. Peter in Fullerton and Holy Family in Lindsay, Gutgsell said.
"I know it's been in this time, which of course has been filled with all sorts of news," Gutgsell said. "There have been calls here over these last couple of weeks that have brought this to the archbishop's attention."
Sellentin has been with the archdiocese since his ordination in 1965, Gutgsell said. During his career, Sellentin served three parishes in Omaha and eight in rural Nebraska, Gutgsell said.
Curtiss has served as archbishop since 1993. He was preceded by Archbishop Daniel Sheehan, who died in 2000, and Archbishop Gerald Bergan, who headed Nebraska's largest diocese from 1947 to 1969.
There have been no reports alleging sexual abuse by Sellentin over the last 13 years, Gutgsell said.
Retired Nebraska Supreme Court Judge John Grant said Monday that he attended a meeting in the 1960s at St. Joan of Arc parish in Omaha with about 300 people in which misconduct by Sellentin was discussed, although child sexual abuse was not named outright.
"They were aware of the fact this guy was molesting some kids," Grant said of church officials at that time.
Parishioners were relieved Sellentin was transferred, but they did not consider the ramifications of his being moved to a new parish, Grant said.
"Honest to God, I don't think it dawned on anybody else what we were doing to somebody else by not raising hell," Grant said.
Although the accusations are too old to be prosecuted, Curtiss felt they were credible enough to remove Sellentin from his appointment. He did not say why Sellentin was granted early retirement despite the claims against him. Retirement age for priests is 70.
"That was between he and the archbishop," Gutgsell said. "It was my understanding that was part of the conversation."
Curtiss was criticized by parishioners recently for transferring and not dismissing a priest who admitted to Curtiss he had viewed child pornography on the Internet while serving at a Norfolk church.
The Rev. Robert Allgaier was transferred to Ralston, where continued to teach middle school children.
Allgaier was charged in February with attempted possession of child pornography, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. He has pleaded innocent and since been removed from his priestly duties.
In Lincoln, four brothers have accused a former priest of priest has also been accused by four brothers of molesting them in 1978. The brothers have asked the Lincoln Diocese for $2 million to keep quiet about their alleged abuse.
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