Diocese Sued in Sex Abuse Cases

By Mary Beth Smetzer
News-Miner [Fairbanks AK]
November 6, 2004

A civil lawsuit was filed Friday against the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska on behalf of 14 of 16 men, alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Jules Convert.

The number of complainants against Convert has steadily increased since June 2003, when the first four men, identified as John Does 1-4, filed suit against the Fairbanks-based diocese as well as the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, and the Society of Jesus, Alaska.

Convert, a French-born Jesuit priest who ministered in villages along the Yukon River from 1945 until 1978, died in 1995 in France.

Friday's filing was directed solely at the diocese because the Oregon Jesuit Province and its Alaska subsidiary settled with 15 of the men, said Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney representing all 16.

The 16th and most recent complainant hasn't had the opportunity to complete a settlement with the Jesuits, Roosa said.

The Fairbanks diocese has settled only with John Doe 1 and John Doe 8.

Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler said the diocese hasn't closed off communication with the other complainants but hasn't been actively negotiating. He expressed surprise at Friday's filing.

"We have been waiting for the (Alaska) Supreme Court decision on the statute of limitations," Kettler said.

Attorneys for the diocese have filed motions to have the cases against Convert dismissed because they are decades old and could exceed state statute of limitations laws. Lawyers for both sides recently made their arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court and a ruling has not yet been issued.

According to court documents, the 14 plaintiffs who filed suit Friday are anonymously identified as John Does 2 through 7 and 9 through 16. Ranging in age from 6 to 15, they were residents of St. Marys, Kaltag, Unalakleet or Holy Cross and were altar boys at the time of the alleged abuse.

All of the alleged abuse was described as taking place in Convert's living quarters at various churches and was similar in detail. Each altar boy would be invited to spend the night as a special privilege, court documents stated. Then, after the child went to sleep, Convert would molest him.

The diocese is accused of acting negligently in the placement and supervision of Convert.

The lawsuit claims the diocese concealed and aided Convert by transferring him from position to position in the diocese, keeping his felonious activities confidential and "harboring him within the protective cloak of the church."

In addition, the legal filing asserts that most recently "officers, employees and agents of the diocese destroyed and concealed documentary evidence relating to these claims in January of 2003 and thereafter."

Kettler adamantly denies that any files relating to the case were destroyed.

"We made a very special effort to tell everybody to do the opposite. I asked the staff to do the opposite," he said.

The lawsuit says the men suffered and continue to suffer severe emotional distress and mental anguish, depression, repression and disassociation, including loss of faith in God and the Catholic Church, fear of priests, loss of social interaction with others in the community and loss of access to the sacraments of the church.

Each man seeks more than $50,000 in damages.


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