Abuse Case against Fairbanks Priest Dismissed

By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks News-Miner
August 4, 2010

A sexual abuse suit filed last year against a former Fairbanks priest was dismissed in U.S. District Court on May 24 by Judge John Sedwick. The Fairbanks Catholic Diocese announced the dismissal Tuesday.

The Rev. Gerald Ornowski, who served for a dozen years as pastor of St. Mark’s University Catholic Parish and Catholic Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was out of town undergoing medical treatment when the complaint was filed in May 2009 by a Western Alaska woman.

The 75-year-old priest, who served in eight Eskimo communities from Little Diomede to Bethel before taking on the university parish and chaplaincy in 1997, has denied the allegations since they were levied.

The female plaintiff, listed as Jane Doe, claimed Ornowski abused her on three separate occasions when she was a young girl in Stebbins, where Ornowski served in the early 1990s.

Ornowski and his religious order, the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Mass., were named as defendants.

Tuesday, Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, representing Jane Doe, said the civil suit was voluntarily dismissed by his client.

“She agreed to dismiss it,” Roosa said. “Not everybody who pursues litigation has the strength to do the fight. Once the litigation started she could not stand the pressure of the litigation.”

The dismissed lawsuit was the only complaint filed against Ornowski. The priest is traveling and unavailable for comment.

Although the Fairbanks diocese wasn’t included in the 2009 civil suit while undergoing bankruptcy litigation, Diocesan Chancellor Robert Hannon said, the dismissed lawsuit is the first in Fairbanks where a plaintiff has decided not to proceed.

According to Hannon, the diocese undertook an extensive review of its own files and found nothing to indicate that there are matters of concern in regards to the missionary priest.

“We have no credible complaints,” Hannon said.

“No one has come forward to anybody here or to our ministers or priests about him. If anyone has a complaint against Father Ornowski or another minister we urge them to come forward.”

Earlier this year, the diocese provided more than a $10 million financial settlement to be divided among almost 300 abuse victims.

Bishop Donald Kettler is carrying out bankruptcy court directives, visiting abuse survivors and their communities throughout the sprawling northern diocese to apologize and promote healing.

In a press release, Kettler said he was heartened by the lawsuit’s dismissal and that Ornowski may come up to Fairbanks occasionally to help the diocese train deacons.

“Fr. Gerald’s ministry, first in rural Alaska and then for more than a decade at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a chaplain and pastor, has been marked by holiness and distinction. I am glad his name has been cleared.”

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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