Oregon Court Says Archdiocese's Responsibility Is Limited

By William McCall
March 19, 2008

The Oregon Court of Appeals says there is a limit to how much responsibility the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland must take for the conduct of its priests.

The court ruled Wednesday that allegations of a single incident of sexual abuse by one priest and a claim that another once masturbated in front of a teenager failed to establish liability for the archdiocese.

A man who was a child in the 1950s claimed that one priest, who has since died, abused him once when he was about 7. He claimed the other priest called him into his office as a freshman in high school and masturbated in front of him.

A trial judge dismissed the claims, ruling that neither priest had been acting within the scope of his employment. It said the conduct of the second priest didn't constitute child sexual abuse and was not covered by the statute of limitations the Legislature set in 1989.

The man claimed the first priest abused him after he had scraped his knees while roller skating as a boy on the sidewalk around St. Mary's Church in Mount Angel. The priest helped the boy but later sodomized him.

When the man was a teenager, he attended the Mount Angel Seminary for his freshman year of high school. He claimed that Louis Charvet, then a freshman adviser and dormitory proctor, called him into his office and began to masturbate in front of him while lecturing him about the subject.

In an opinion by Judge Darleen Ortega, the Court of Appeals noted the sexual abuse by the first priest was the first encounter between him and the child, and there was no evidence the priest "manipulated a position of trust to ingratiate himself" with the boy or "to create an opportunity to sexually abuse him."

As a result, the archdiocese could not be held liable for his conduct, the court said, "because we conclude that evidence is lacking from which a jury could find that (his) actions were of a kind he was hired to perform."

The appeals court also affirmed the conclusion by the trial judge about the conduct by the second priest.

It noted that Charvet was sitting behind a desk, his actions were not clearly visible, and he did not touch the teenager or ask him to do the same thing.

The court concluded such suggestive conduct did not reach the level considered "to be the kind of extreme or severe conduct" defined as child sexual abuse, which generally involves physical contact.

The court also said it did not constitute mental injury considered "cruelty to a child," also covered under the abuse law.


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