Verdict in Oregon Priest Abuse Suit against Archdiocese

Associated Press, carried in OregonLive
March 14, 2007

Portland, Ore. (AP) — A jury quickly returned a verdict in a lawsuit filed by a Hillsboro man against the Archdiocese of Portland.

But the public won't know for several days whether the jury agreed with the man's claim that he was abused by a priest more than two decades ago.

The mini-trial Tuesday was one of several scheduled for this week and next, with jurors determining whether accusations are likely true and, if so, what the emotional damage is worth.

The estimates from all the mini-trials will be used to determine whether the Archdiocese of Portland has set aside enough money to pay off settlements and judgments as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones must decide if $13.7 million is sufficient to cover possible jury verdicts in 22 claims against the archdiocese. The answer is pivotal for the church's plan to reorganize its finances, pay 146 sexual abuse claims settled so far, and cover the unsettled claims without having to sell church properties to do it.

"This is a very unique proceeding," Jones told the six-person jury on Tuesday.

In one of Tuesday's mini-trials, Matthew Clemens, 38, testified about two sexual molestations he is alleged to have suffered on a single day 22 years ago at the hands of Donald Durand, a priest at his family's church. Clemens said he began recalling the incidents after news reports named Durand as an alleged molester of two other boys.

Evidence from his therapist indicated that Clemens experienced a "traumatic forgetting" of the incident. The therapist's report said the incidents left Clemens terrified of sexual activity, and emotionally and socially isolated.

Clemens said he has had no intimate sexual relations since the alleged abuse by Durand. He said therapy has helped him understand why he had been suicidal, depressed and isolated.

Portland lawyer Thomas Dulcich, representing the archdiocese, said Clemens is the victim of poor therapeutic treatment that implanted memories of abuse in his mind.

Dulcich described Clemens as a successful civil engineer. He said church leaders heard "not one complaint" against Durand in his 42 years as a priest. Dulcich questioned how, at age 16, Clemens could forget such alleged traumatic abuse.

"None of this is Mr. Clemens' fault," Dulcich told the jury. "If he is a victim, he is a victim of improper therapy that has caused him to make false accusations."

Jones plans to conduct the mini-trials daily until he has heard all the unsettled claims. He will then reveal the jury verdicts and his opinion of whether the settlement fund is viable.


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