Alleged Abuse Victim Claims Law, Houck Didn't React to Allegations

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 11, 2002

A man who says he was abused by a Mississippi priest as a teen-ager says he was ignored by now-Cardinal Bernard Law and later made to feel isolated by the Jackson diocese's current leadership.

Meanwhile, the Jackson diocese said it has suspended a priest that is accused of abusing a Florida teen-ager in 1988.

Mark Belenchia, 46, of Hattiesburg said Monday that his mother in the early 1970s told Law, who was then the vicar general in Jackson, that her son had been abused, but that Law ignored the allegations.

"I think she went to Law for some guidance - like 'We need to do something about this,"' Belenchia said. "Nothing that I know of was done."

Law, who now leads the archdiocese of Boston, has refused calls to step down in light of spiraling allegations he protected priests accused of abuse. A call by The Associated Press to the Archdiocese of Boston seeking comment was not returned.

Belenchia also said Monday that current Jackson diocese Bishop William Houck told him in a meeting three years ago that Belenchia was the only sex abuse victim involving a priest in Mississippi that he was aware of.

Belenchia's claim of sexual abuse more than 30 years ago is the latest in a growing web of sex abuse allegations involving the Catholic Church in Mississippi in recent days.

Attorneys say Kenneth Morrison and his two brothers, whose names have not been made public, plan to file suit this week against George L. Broussard, former pastor of Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson.

Belenchia said his 1999 meeting with Houck was attended by his wife Donna Belenchia and the Rev. Michael Flannery. The four were discussing a monetary settlement for the alleged sex abuse Belenchia suffered for two years starting at age 13 by the late Rev. Bernard Haddican at St. Mary's Parish in the small Delta town of Shelby, Belenchia said.

"What (Houck) did was deny it, said he never knew of it - basically that I was the first person that had ever come forward that he was aware of," Belenchia said. "He made it sound like, to me, that I was all alone."

Belenchia's wife said she also left the meeting with the impression that Houck had never dealt with any other sex abuse case.

In response, Houck said Monday that he was speaking specifically of alleged victims of Haddican - that there had been no prior accusations against that priest.

Flannery, the vicar general of the diocese, echoed Houck's words:

"What he said to him, he (Houck) did not know of any other victims. ... there was no other identifiable victim for the priest that had molested Mark Belenchia," Flannery said. "No other victim had come forward, that's what he said."

The Diocese of Jackson on Monday said it suspended the Rev. Arnulfo Arandia. Arandia "took off" this week and is nowhere to be found, Flannery told the Clarion-Ledger. Arandia, a priest from Ecuador, came to the Jackson diocese in November 2000. Church officials said they had no prior knowledge of abuse by Arandia.

Arandia is accused in a lawsuit filed by Kenneth Matias, 28, in Florida's Miami-Dade County Circuit Court that the priest molested Matias when he was a 15-year-old altar boy.

In another case, Angie Phillips of Brandon, a woman in her early 40s, has told attorneys she was repeatedly raped by two priests in the 1970s, beginning when she was 12, according to her lawyer, Marcie Fyke of Jackson.

Fyke, who also represents the Morrisons, said that the number of victims stepping forward is expanding, and that her office can name "at least a dozen people in Mississippi by name" who were abused in the church.

"I have been truly shocked in that almost every new witness that we call knows something about this or was abused themselves," she said.

While the cases of alleged abuse happened in the 1960s and 1970s, Fyke said she thinks that today's church leaders played a role in the cover-up.

"It is clear that the abuse was epidemic and it's clear that the current leaders of the church knew about this," Fyke said. "And absolutely no action has been taken to try to take the steps to heal these many people that have been injured by these priests."

On Friday, the AP reported that it had obtained documents showing Houck negotiated with a family in the mid-1990s - a case that was never disclosed publicly. Houck confirmed the documents were authentic.


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