Priest, His Order Face Suit on Abuse

By Julia Lieblich
Chicago Tribune
February 27, 2003

A 27-year-old man and his parents filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Rev. John Baptist Ormechea and the Chicago-based Passionist religious order, charging the priest with sexually abusing the plaintiff in 1983 and the order with failing to report the allegations to law enforcement.

This is the fifth allegation of sexual abuse against Ormechea. The new accuser, identified in the suit only as John Doe 75, said Ormechea abused him at age 8 on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Church, 7211 W. Talcott Ave.

The plaintiff says he told his parents about the incident in 1993 after watching a movie on television about sexual abuse. According to the suit, his parents notified Rev. Michael Higgins, head of the Roman Catholic Passionist religious order, who told them Ormechea had been sent away in 1988 after being accused of inappropriate conduct with a minor.

The suit says the order asked John Doe 75 to give a written account of the abuse, which it sent to a mental health specialist for an evaluation. The specialist concluded the victim had been abused by a priest, but not by Ormechea.

The order removed Ormechea, 65, in December as pastor of St. Agnes Church in Louisville, Ky., after being contacted by the Cook County state's attorney's office. Cook County prosecutors said an investigation revealed Ormechea abused four minors between 1978 and 1981 when he was at Immaculate Conception.

At the time, Higgins told the Courier-Journal in Louisville that the St. Luke Institute, a treatment center in Silver Spring, Md., in 1993 had found no evidence that Ormechea posed a risk to children.

One of the alleged victims, a 36-year-old stockbroker, told authorities that when he was in the 6th and 7th grades Ormechea would visit his family's home for dinner and later come to the boy's room on the pretext of saying goodnight.

The statute of limitations prevented Cook County authorities from prosecuting Ormechea.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the plaintiffs and their lawyers are asking prosecutors to investigate whether it is possible to bring criminal charges given that John Doe 75 was a minor when Ormechea left the state.

Higgins did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul-based attorney for the plaintiffs, said religious orders can easily transfer accused priests to other states or countries. "The orders have been every bit as bad [as dioceses] at handling this," he said. "They operate in the same clerical culture. They utilize the same tools of secrecy."


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