Ore. Abbey Faces Trial over Alleged Abuse in 1958

By William McCall
The Mycentraloregon
June 9, 2010

PORTLAND — The Oregon Court of Appeals has called for a jury trial in a sex abuse lawsuit against Mount Angel Abbey and one of its priests that dates back more than 50 years.

The priest, Father Louis Charvet, who died in 2007, was accused of masturbating in front of a 14-year-old student in 1958 at a high school the abbey once operated.

The case went to the Oregon Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appeals court for review on the issue of whether Charvet was acting within the scope of his employment.

The appeals court on Wednesday remanded it to the trial judge in Portland who originally dismissed the case, saying it should be up to a jury to decide.

In an opinion by Judge Darleen Ortega, the appeals court said a jury "could reasonably infer that the alleged abusive conduct resulted from the employment-related conduct."

Charvet was the faculty adviser and dormitory proctor for David Schmidt, then a freshman at the former high school that was part of the Mount Angel Abbey seminary.

Schmidt claimed in his lawsuit that Charvet called him into his office for a meeting, asked him to stand while the priest sat behind a desk, then proceeded to talk about sex and reproduction while he masturbated under his cassock.

Schmidt said it was the only incident that occurred with Charvet and he had little contact with the priest afterward.

The appeals court rejected the abbey's argument there must be a pattern of "grooming" over a lengthy period of time or that Schmidt had to show Charvet used his position of trust "to ingratiate himself" with a victim.

Schmidt filed the case in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland in 2002, seeking about $4 million in damages.

His attorney, Erin Olson, said Wednesday that Schmidt is "happy to finally have a chance to have his case heard by a jury."

An attorney for the abbey, Steve English, noted the undisputed facts of the alleged incident were that it took place more than a half century ago, both the priest and the student were fully clothed, and there was no physical contact between them.

But English added that "Mount Angel Abbey has always condemned child abuse" and that the abbey "looks forward to defending itself in front of reasonable-minded jurors."

The abbey was founded in 1882 by Benedictine monks from the village of Engelberg, Switzerland, according to its website.

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