Priest Defrocked after Decades-Old Sexual Abuse Alleged

By Karen Herzog
Bismark Tribune
March 28, 2008

A man accused of sexual abuse decades ago in the Bismarck Diocese has been officially removed from the priesthood by the Vatican, citing "ecclesiastical crimes against youth."

Joel Melarvie, chancellor of the Bismarck Catholic Diocese, said that an announcement of the laicization (removal from priesthood) of James Pommier was placed in the diocesan monthly "Dakota Catholic Action" to inform people in the diocese of Pommier's status and to offer an opportunity for victims to come forward.

"If anyone has been abused, (we want them) to contact the diocese, to let us know,"Melarvie said. "We want to work with them to come to some resolution for the pain they suffered."

Born in 1925 in Lignite, Pommier's first assignments were as assistant pastor at St. Patrick's in Dickinson in 1954 and at St. Vincent's in Mott in 1955, Melarvie said. His first two assignments as parish pastor were at St. John's in New Leipzig in 1957-61 and at Immaculate Conception in Max in 1961-62.

That was followed by positions as parish administrator at St. Peter and Paul in Fallon, 1962 and at Sacred Heart in Scranton in 1963. From 1963 to 1970, he was pastor at St. Theresa's in Carson, and in 1970, he became pastor at St. Boniface in Grenora.

Pommier then went to St. Joseph's Hospital in Minot, where he served as a chaplain from 1970 to 1977.

In 1977, Pommier left the Bismarck Diocese without the knowledge or permission of the bishop, presumably moving to the state of Washington, Melarvie said.

Pommier's diocesan file indicates that following the removal of his faculties (the permission to perform priestly functions) by the Archbishop of Seattle in 1985, the Bismarck Diocese's Bishop John Kinney removed his faculties as well in 1990.

Pommier's movements during those years aren't entirely clear, Melarvie said, although rumors reached the diocese that, after the removal of his faculties in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Pommier was representing himself as a priest in the Great Falls and Billings, Mont., areas.

"We received an inquiry from a parish pastor in a small community in the Great Falls-Billings Diocese, about three years ago," Melarvie said.

"When we found out what he was doing, Bishop (Paul Zipfel) notified all civil authorities and the state of North Dakota, as well as the (relevant) diocesan bishops."

Bismarck's canonical council sent its case for Pommier's laicization to Rome; once approved by the Vatican in December 2007, the information on Pommier was sent to all bishops in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Melarvie said.

At this point, the Bismarck Diocese has not heard that Pommier is making any effort to promote himself as a priest, Melarvie said.

To their knowledge, Pommier is living in Washington state, he said.

Melarvie said Pommier's diocesan file indicates that the first accusations were made anonymously by three boys in 1962. Other accusations were made in 1964, in 1968 or 1969, in 1971, in 1973 or 1974, and in 1977.

The file does not indicate what responses or actions Bishop Hilary Hacker may have taken to these allegations, Melarvie said.

Melarvie said that in recent years, the diocese has met with the alleged victims. In addition to counseling, financial settlements have been made with four individuals during the period of 2004 to 2007 in the amount of $326,083, he said.

"The important thing is the people who have been abused," Melarvie said. "For some, their faith has been shattered. Others are stronger. But all have been greatly hurt."

Melarvie said that the majority of those who came forward said they were in their early to mid-teens when the alleged abuse occurred, with one person reported to be age 10.

"We all recognize that the church has carried a great burden of sorrow for the victims of clerical sexual abuse," he said. "Our effort now not only in Bismarck but through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is to prevent such a recurrence by informing parents and all staff members and volunteers of the issues of child abuse, and give them the tools to prevent it."

A priestly convocation Monday through Thursday at the Seven Seas in Mandan will focus on boundary issues, said Bishop Zipfel.

"We're aware of the need to keep that in front of our mind's eye, to be very mindful of that," he said.


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