Catholic Priest Sex Abuse Case Carries on
Allegations from NE Oregon Church in '70s Focus of Suit

By Nina Mehlhaf
April 22, 2008

Lawyers met Monday behind closed doors with a judge in Bend Monday to talk about the future of a sex abuse case against the Catholic Diocese of Baker.

The Diocese of Baker, which is moving its headquarters from Bend to Powell Butte, overseas all Catholic parishes on this side of the Cascades.

The suit alleges that a priest in the northeast Oregon town of Elgin sexually abused a child in the 1970's.

Monday's hearing, coincidentally, comes on the heels of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America and his speech acknowledging and apologizing for the many sex abuse cases in this country.

The Central Oregon lawsuit is a case that's been ongoing for two years.

In his civil suit, a transgendered man only known as K.C. says he realized in 2005 that his depression, anxiety and gender confusion were all related to alleged sex abuse by his then-priest, Fr. Pacome St. Arnaud.

Three other lawsuits have been filed against Arnaud, who died in 1992.

The documents say K.C. was a child at the St. Mary's Catholic Church in Elgin when the supposed abuse was happening from 1977-1980.

But the case hinges on whether the Diocese of Baker knew or should have known Father Arnaud was sexually active, posed a danger to children and didn't do anything about it.

Bishop Robert Vasa spoke briefly to NewsChannel 21 over the phone, saying he couldn't comment about the pending case.

But he did say he was pleased Pope Benedict, in the U.S. Last week, acknowledged and apologized for the priest sex scandals that have rocked this country.

"Today. I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also I ask you to love your priests," the pope said.

In K.C. vs. Diocese of Baker, the plaintiff has put a price tag of $12 million on his stress and depression, and that's not counting actual costs of medical help.

Nationally, there have been 11,000 allegations of abuse involving 4,400 priests over a 50-year period.

It's so rocked the Catholic church that settlements of $2 billion have been paid out so far.

Monsignor Steven Rohlfs of Mt. St. Mary's Seminary Rector said, "To a very large degree it has a tarnished image, sadly. But it was the fault of certain priests, a small percentage, and the fault of the bishops who were not vigilant, and the fault of the Vatican who did not intercede quickly enough and radically enough in this issue."

Another pre-trial conference in the lawsuit was set for June 9.


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