Mt. Angel Abbey Gets Sued 50 Years after Alleged Incident

By Lindsay Keefer
Woodburn Independent
January 9, 2010

The Mt. Angel Abbey is being sued more than 50 years after an alleged incident took place involving a now-deceased priest and a former student.
Photo by Lindsay Keefer

The Oregon Supreme Court rules statute of liminations not an issue

MT. ANGEL — A 2002 case against the Mt. Angel Abbey has been resurrected after the Oregon Supreme Court determined on Dec. 24 that masturbating in front of a child is indeed child cruelty.

Plaintiff David Schmidt initially brought the case to Multnomah County Court in 2002 against the abbey and Father Louis Charvet, seeking $4 million in damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for breach of fiduciary duty. He also sought $150,000 for costs of counseling and psychological treatment.

Schmidt claimed that as a 14-year-old student at the Mt. Angel Seminary in 1958, his adviser, Charvet, brought the teen into his office and masturbated under his robe in front of him.

Schmidt said that Charvet questioned the teen about sexuality, using explicit language, and continued to fondle himself for 30 to 40 minutes.

“Mt. Angel Abbey absolutely condemns any kind of conduct that results in child sexual abuse and condemns any actions on the part of Father Louis that may have caused pain to this man,” said Stephen English, attorney for the abbey.

“Having said that, this apparently took place 50 years ago and whatever he was doing was under three layers of clothing.”

Why did Schmidt wait so long to come forward with his story?

“He had no memory of the abuse until around 1999,” said Schmidt’s attorney, Erin Olson.

“When he remembered it, it caused him some extreme distress and he ended up in an unfortunate mental health situation.”

Multnomah County Court threw out the case, ruling it was barred by the statute of limitations — stating Charvet’s actions were not child abuse.

The Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the Multnomah County Court’s dismissal of the case in January 2007, but Olson said even the trial judge considered that masturbating in front of a child would be deemed cruel.

“By applying the interpretation of the statute, (he concluded) it didn’t meet the definitions (of child cruelty),” she said.

After Charvet’s death in October 2007, the case went to the Oregon Supreme Court in March 2009 with the abbey as the sole defendant. Its Dec. 24 decision determined that Charvet’s conduct was, in fact, considered child cruelty.

“If that’s not child abuse … I don’t know what is,” said Walter J. Ledesma, who filed a friend of the court brief for the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. “The example of an evil mind taking advantage of kids really resonates with me.”

According to the Oregon Judicial Department Appellate Court Opinions, the Supreme Court concluded that cruelty to a child includes “acts that are performed with the specific intent of injuring or harming the child and that are capable of producing those results and “… acts that, by their very nature, demonstrate a willful and wanton disregard for the child’s welfare, such that one can infer a willingness to have the child injured.”

Now, the case is going back to the Court of Appeals and it will likely move to a trial.

“We intend to explore at trial why it took the plaintiff several decades to come forward to tell us about this,” English said.

Schmidt originally also sued the Archdiocese of Portland for a sexual assault at the age of 7 by Mt. Angel St. Mary Parish priest Clement Frank, who was already deceased in 2002.

He claimed he fell down roller skating outside the church and, when Frank brought the boy inside to help clean up his scrapes, the priest raped him.

The court found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove that Frank used his position as a priest to entice the child inside, so the archdiocese could not be held responsible.

English said if it goes to trial, it won’t be an easy case for Schmidt.

“As you can imagine, since this took place over 50 years ago, virtually anyone who could be a witness is dead, including Father Louis,” he said.

Despite this, Schmidt still has a right to tell his story, Ledesma said.

I just wanted Mr. Schmidt to have his day in court,” he said.

“I want him be able to say, ‘This is what happened to me,’ and let someone else decide.”


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