Salem Priest Is Target of Lawsuit

By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal [Portland OR]
April 19, 2007

Curtis Grecco received a $100,000 settlement from the Archdiocese of Portland, but he still wants a public airing of the sexual abuse that a Catholic priest allegedly inflicted on him and other juvenile inmates three decades ago at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility.

Grecco, 49, says he was sexually abused six times in the 1970s by the Rev. Michael Sprauer, then MacLaren's chaplain. It happened, Grecco says, while he was locked up in a segregation cell. He was 14 or 15 at the time.

Now, Grecco seeks retribution.

Michael Sprauer

"He came through my life and kind of wreaked havoc," Grecco said Wednesday, referring to Sprauer, a popular and respected priest at St. Joseph Parish in Salem. "Now it's my turn to come back and pay him a visit. I'm happy that we're going to be able to get this guy into court and let everybody know what he's about."

Grecco is one of 15 men suing Sprauer and the state. Their allegations of abuse are outlined in a series of civil suits pending in Multnomah and Marion counties. Grecco will have to wait to tell his story in court; no trial date has been set for his Marion County suit.

The Gresham-area resident plans to be a spectator at the first trial, pitting Sprauer against three other accusers. It's scheduled to start May 1 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

"I'll be at every hearing that has to do with Michael Sprauer," Grecco said. "If we stop now, we don't get to tell our story, and the priest can keep on denying what he's done. So we're going to take him to trial and prove he's lying."

Sprauer, who served as chaplain at the state-run juvenile facility from 1972-75, has denied all of the sexual-abuse accusations. His Portland attorney, Thomas Cooney Sr., declined to comment Wednesday, saying, "That's coming up for trial, and I don't want to discuss it in the newspapers. I want to try it in the courtroom."

In a deposition connected to the civil lawsuits, Sprauer denied sexually abusing any of his accusers, court papers show. He acknowledged that he had oral sex in public restrooms -- private conduct not connected to his MacLaren duties.

For the deposition, Sprauer responded to questions put to him by Salem attorney Daniel Gatti, representing Sprauer's accusers:

"So you think all of my clients are just flat-out liars?" Gatti asked.

"I don't know if they're flat-out liars," Sprauer replied. "I just know they're not telling the truth about this particular situation."

Gatti went on to question the priest about his sexual history: "When you've had sex over the adult period, what did sex consist of?"

Sprauer replied that he had received oral sex.

"How is it that you picked your sexual partners?" Gatti asked.

"They were all in public restrooms," Sprauer answered.

Gatti also put this question to the priest:

"In your heart of hearts, do you have any sorrow for any activities that you've done with reference to your interaction with minor children?"

Sprauer: "I have no remorse because I don't feel I've done anything to harm children."

As Grecco tells it, the priest harmed him when he was a troubled teenager.

"I couldn't run, I was in a ... box of cement," he said, recounting his isolation cell and how Sprauer allegedly forced him to engage in oral sex. "I couldn't go anywhere, couldn't talk to anybody."

Grecco said Sprauer's denial of the sex-abuse accusations adds salt to his painful memories.

"The more he denies it, the more frustrated I get," he said.

Catholic Church leaders placed Sprauer on administrative leave in mid-2003, pending the outcome of the civil suits. He continues to attend services at St. Joseph, and he is listed on the church bulletin as a parochial vicar.

Local Catholics think Sprauer has been falsely accused, and they remain loyal to him.

In last Sunday's church bulletin, Sprauer thanked St. Joseph parishioners for their emotional support and encouragement.

"All of the symbols of Easter proclaim powerfully that light conquers the darkness and truth overcomes evil," he wrote. "You, my sisters and brothers, are signs of the Easter Good News as you share that light with me through your wonderful cards and messages of hope. Thank you from a grateful heart."

What's next

The first trial connected to a series of civil lawsuits filed against the Rev. Michael Sprauer of Salem is scheduled to start May 1 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The trial will pit Sprauer against three of the 15 men who claim that the priest sexually abused them in the 1970s at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn.

Today, a judge will consider pretrial legal motions.

Archdiocese payments

The Archdiocese of Portland agreed to pay $600,000 to 15 men who sued the Rev. Michael Sprauer, alleging that he sexually abused them in the 1970s at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, according to Salem attorney Daniel Gatti, who represents the men.

The settlements ranged from $7,500 to $100,000, Gatti said.

"It's not an admission that Sprauer is guilty, and Sprauer continues to deny that he is guilty," Gatti said. "But why would the archdiocese settle the case if there wasn't some sort of credible evidence?"

The financial settlements ended the archdiocese's involvement in the lawsuits. However, the cases remain active against Sprauer and the state.

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