Group Seeks Investigation of US Priest Accused of Abuse in Bangladesh

By Jim Salter
Canadian Press
January 19, 2011

An advocacy group for victims of clergy abuse is urging federal prosecutors to investigate a priest formerly of St. Louis who is accused of molesting as many as 30 teenagers in Bangladesh.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Wednesday that the Rev. William Christensen frequently travels between the U.S. and Bangladesh. SNAP is asking U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan in St. Louis to determine if Christensen violated any U.S. laws.

A spokeswoman for Callahan declined comment.

SNAP is also urging the Catholic Church to bring Christensen to the U.S. and put him in a secure treatment centre.

"The goal is simply to protect kids, and to get Christensen prosecuted either here or in Bangladesh so that he'll hopefully be jailed and never have access to kids," SNAP's David Clohessy said.

Christensen is a priest in the Marianists Province of the United States. He taught at Chaminade College Preparatory School in suburban St. Louis in the 1970s.

He moved to Bangladesh in 1986 and a year later founded the Institute of Integrated Rural Development. The organization, which maintains an office in St. Louis, said its goal is "empowering the rural poor to end their own poverty."

But a former nun, Rosaline Costa, said Christensen used the organization as a front to sexually abuse at least 30 Muslim teenagers in Bangladesh and paid money to keep the abuse quiet. Costa served as the organization's treasurer from 2001 to 2007. She is now a human rights worker.

The Vatican began an investigation last summer and found the allegations credible. In October, the Vatican issued a decree of laicization, the first step in removing Christensen as a priest.

Christensen appealed Nov. 29, and the outcome of the appeals process is still pending. Until it is resolved, Christensen remains a priest and a member of the Marianists, the organization's provincial, the Rev. Martin Solma, said in a statement.

Messages seeking comment from Christensen through his organization were not returned, but he has denied wrongdoing. In fact, he filed a $1.4 million lawsuit earlier this month, accusing Costa of slander.

Christensen was at the centre of a high-profile legal case in Missouri. In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court allowed a man to move forward with a lawsuit alleging he did not recall abuse by Christensen at Chaminade in the 1970s until he began receiving treatment for brain cancer in 2000.

The accuser, Michael Powel, died in 2008. His family reached a settlement in the lawsuit after his death.


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