Dioceses Pay Nearly $ 900,000 to Cover Abuse Costs

By James MacPherson
Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota)
September 13, 2003

North Dakota's two Roman Catholic dioceses say nearly $ 900,000 has been spent to cover the costs of sexual-abuse allegations against clergy over the last six decades.

The Rev. Gregory Schlesselman, the vicar general of the Fargo Diocese, said 17 priests and deacons have been accused of sexual abuse of minors since 1950.

Schlesselman said the number of people who made accusations against the clergy in the Fargo Diocese is unknown.

Four of the priests have died and the remainder have been removed from the ministry, Schlesselman said.

The diocese, which covers the eastern half of the state, has had 693 priests and deacons since 1950. He said that means less than 3 percent of the clergy had allegations of sexual abuse against them.

The Fargo Diocese serves about 98,000 Catholics, he said.

Schlesselman said the diocese has paid $ 821,830 in compensation to alleged victims of sexual abuse. He said the money also covered counseling and attorney's fees to defend allegations against the clergy.

Joel Melarvie, the Bismarck Diocese's director of communications, said 14 people have made allegations against 10 priests since 1957.

'None are in active ministry now,' Melarvie said. 'Some are deceased.'

In all, 222 priests have served the diocese since 1957, Melarvie said.

Most of the alleged assaults occurred decades ago, but some people came forward with claims in the last few years, Melarvie said.

The diocese, which covers the western portion of the state, paid out $ 68,710 to cover the cost of the sexual abuse allegations, Melarvie said.

He said the diocese has no active cases of child sexual abuse.

The diocese serves about 77,000 Catholics.

To address clergy sexual misconduct against minors, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops last year established the Office of Child Protection, which is conducting audits of dioceses across the county. North Dakota diocese officials say the audits should be completed next month.

The recent figures released are from self-reviews, the dioceses said.

Bishop Paul Zipfel of Bismarck adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy toward molestation in 2001. A year later, the Rev. Steve Zastoupil of Bismarck and the Rev. Norman Dukart, who served churches in Crosby and Noonan, were asked to resign after admitting to sexual misconduct involving children decades ago.

Prosecutors did not file charges.

'I don't know if you'll ever see this at an end,' Zipfel said. 'We are doing everything we can to address this serious issue.'

Zipfel said background checks are done on any person who may have contact with children.

Schlesselman said the Fargo Diocese also performs background checks on anyone who may have contact with minors.

The Fargo Diocese has had several allegations of child sexual abuse in recent years.

The Rev. Abraham Anthony, also known as Anthony Abraham, was charged in 2000 in Stutsman County with gross sexual imposition, sexual assault and disorderly conduct. Officials believe the priest fled to his native India.

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said federal authorities are trying to bring a priest back from the Philippines to face sex crime charges. The Rev. Fernando Sayasaya is accused of having sexual contact with two boys beginning in 1995. He was charged in Cass County last December with gross sexual imposition.

The Rev. Charles Fischer told Fargo Bishop Samuel Aquila two years ago that he had molested children while a parish priest.

Schlesselman said no charges were brought against Fischer. He said Fischer is seriously ill, and made the admissions while he was receiving treatment.

Schlesselman said Alan Storey, a deacon in Walhalla, was recently barred from the ministry for allegations of child sexual abuse. Storey could not be reached for comment.


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