Ex-Chaminade Student Says He Was Abused in '70s

By Tim Bryant and Patricia Rice
The Post-Dispatch
June 10, 2002

In the mid-1970s, a priest and a Roman Catholic brother at Chaminade College Preparatory School sexually abused a student who involuntarily repressed his memories of the abuse until two years ago, a lawsuit alleges.

Michael Powel, 44, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said the abuse he suffered while a student at Chaminade "cost me my childhood and my life." Powel's suit, filed late Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court, was made public on Monday.

Defendants include Chaminade, the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Marianist Province of the United States, the Rev. William Christiansen and Brother John Wolfe.

Christiansen left Chaminade years ago. Wolfe chose to leave Chaminade more than 20 years ago because he refused to get help after there was a serious allegation against him, the Rev. Timothy Dwyer said through a spokesman. Dwyer is provisional head of the Marianists in St. Louis.

Dwyer said he had called Christiansen in May 2000 in Bangladesh, where he is working in economic development. Christiansen denied Powel's allegations, Dwyer said.

Powel's is the only allegation ever made against Christiansen, Dwyer said. He added that he had checked with people who worked at Chaminade at the time, including a dormitory master, who said there had been no complaints against the priest.

Powel said that in early February, he spoke by telephone with Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Timothy Dolan, who is in charge of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' sexual abuse policy enforcement. Dolan confirmed he had talked with Powel.

Because the accused priest was not a diocesan priest and Chaminade is a private school rather than an archdiocesan school, both bishops referred Powel to Dwyer. Powel said he had spent six hours on the phone with Dwyer.

Dwyer said Monday that a Post-Dispatch reporter's call was his first information about the suit. He said Powel "did not get specific as to what Christiansen actually did," beyond taking him and another boy to a pornographic movie. "I have told him if he had anything more to let me know and I would pursue it," he said.

Powel said he had drug and alcohol problems while at Chaminade. He said Christiansen would cover for him if he went into the woods and "got stoned." Powel said that made him dependent on the priest.

In May, Powel filed a sexual assault suit in Connecticut against the former groundskeeper of St. Theresa's Church in Trumbull, Conn. He alleged the groundskeeper abused him between 1968 and 1971. After he came forward, four others also spoke out, Powel said.

"What this is all about is saving kids, so there is not another generation of pedophiles that come - saving kids from having to deal with I had to deal with."

Gerard Noce, a lawyer for the archdiocese, said Monday that under the statute of limitations, Powel filed his suit 18 years too late. Powel had five years after turning 21 to sue, Noce said.

But Powel's lawyer, Joseph Bauer Jr., said the time to sue runs for three years after an abuse victim recovers his or her memory and is diagnosed with an injury. Powel first recalled alleged sexual abuse by Christiansen and Wolfe in February 2000, Bauer said.

"I could have given up," Powel said. "It took me two months to get the strength to call Chaminade and then call Dwyer."

Powel began psychological treatment last year with a therapist in Florida, the suit said. It adds that Powel has been found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Jim Orso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said he was unaware of Powel's suit.

Reporter Tim Bryant:
Phone: 314-621-5154


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