Catholic Scandal Includes Complaint by Ex-Tulsan

By Bill Sherman
Tulsa World (Oklahoma)
May 16, 2002

A former Tulsa man's accusations of unwanted sexual advances by the dean of a Boston-area Catholic seminary nearly seven years ago are now a focus of the Catholic church molestation scandal.

Christopher J. Sellars was 19 when he filed a complaint that the dean had kissed him on the mouth.

The dean was fired but later was recommended for another teaching post by Cardinal Bernard F. Law, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

Law's handling of the matter supplies more ammunition to those calling for his resignation.

Law has been at the center of the sexual abuse controversy, which erupted in the Boston archdiocese early this year and has spread to other parts of the country.

Pope John Paul II called the American cardinals to Rome to discuss the scandal, in which more than 120 priests have been fired or resigned.

At its heart is the accusation that some leaders in the Catholic Church protected priests who sexually abused minors, often paying victims to remain silent and relocating offenders to other positions where they could continue a pattern of abuse.

Sellars, a 1993 graduate of Hale High School, began to think seriously about entering the priesthood during his two years at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.

"I've always had an attraction to service-oriented work, and my Catholic faith has always been important to me," he said Wednesday in a telephone interview from California.

He decided to transfer to the well-respected St. John's Seminary in Brighton, an area of Boston. He was the first Tulsan accepted to the school.

Sellars arrived in Boston in the fall of 1995 full of hope about a life in the priesthood, the Globe reported.

That hope was tainted a few weeks into the semester when the dean of the school, the Rev. George C. Berthold, began to show a special interest in Sellars, including giving him a long, full-body hug, and inviting him to go with Berthold to New York, the Globe reported.

Uncomfortable with the attention, Sellars decided to confront Berthold. At that meeting, the dean tried to assuage his concerns but then kissed him on the mouth and said, "You can call me Daddy,' and I'll call you my little boy,' " the Globe reported.

Sellars immediately reported the events to Berthold's supervisor, Monsignor Timothy J. Moran, who was then the rector of St. John's Seminary's College and School of Theology.

At Moran's suggestion, Sellars returned to Berthold's office wearing a tape recorder. He obtained enough information that Moran agreed to report the incident to Law.

Law met with Sellars and assured him that the matter was being investigated, but Sellars was disappointed with the meeting.

"I guess I was looking for an apology, or at least a recognition that what had happened was wrong," he told the Globe.

Berthold was suspended. St. John's dismissed him at the end of the semester for having improper physical contact with a student.

Despite the dismissal, Sellars told the Globe, he was upset by how Moran and Law had treated him, and he left St. John's at the end of the semester, too.

He enrolled at St. Meinrad's College in southern Indiana, graduating with a bachelor's degree in philosophy, and is now studying theology at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif.

Sellars said he felt no sense of vindication over what is happening in the Catholic Church.

"It's a travesty, and I feel sad about all those who have been victimized," he told the Tulsa World.

But his decision to go into the priesthood remains unshaken.

"It has always felt like the right thing," he wrote in an autobiographical sketch on the California seminary's Web site.

He is scheduled to graduate next year and to be ordained as a diocesan (parish) priest.

His father, Jim, is the editor of the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. He had been an associate editor at The Tulsa Tribune, where he worked for 25 years.

The Globe reported that two years after Berthold was fired from St. John's, Law gave written assurance in 1997 to Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic school in North Carolina, that Berthold had an unblemished record.

He taught there for more than a year, until the Boston archdiocese withdrew the letter of approval without stating a reason, and the college withdrew Berthold's contract, the Globe reported.

Berthold, now 67, has been officially listed as unassigned since 1999. He was scheduled to teach this summer at St. Paul University in Ontario, Canada, but the course was canceled after St. Paul officials learned of his history, the Globe reported.


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