'I am sorry beyond words': Portland archbishop addresses sex abuse while diocese faces new lawsuit

By Fedor Zarkhin
August 27, 2018

Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample got straight to the point Sunday at a special mass for victims of sexual abuse.

"I am sorry beyond words for what priests and bishops have done to harm the children of God," he said at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. "I am ashamed of them."

A recent grand jury report outlined decades of abuse by hundreds of Pennsylvania priests. The report has shaken the country's Catholic community, already facing regular revelations of sexual abuse.

Sample called for change. Incidents must be fully investigated, he said, and priests and bishops must be held accountable, "no matter how high this goes."

Hundreds of churchgoers clapped, interrupting Sample.

"I have outlined some concrete steps and actions which should be taken," he continued.

Sample's 15-minute homily also touched on Portland's own history of abuse. Settlements with more than 100 victims forced the archdiocese into bankruptcy in 2004.

Churchgoers should not fear new revelations here, Sample said. All cases are public. "Nothing is hidden," he said.

Yet a lawsuit filed against the archdiocese last Wednesday makes clear that allegations of decades-old abuse live on. 

The case

"Jack Doe 550," as he is referred to in legal documents, who is in his mid-30s, was a student and altar boy at the Holy Cross Parish and School in the 1990s when he claims two clergymen abused him sexually.

When he was a boy, Doe's abusive father would sometimes drive him out of his home, according to the complaint, and the archdiocese would allow him to stay the night at the rectory.

Deacon James Creel and Father Cathal Brennan both worked at Holy Cross at the time, according to the suit. The men "groomed" Doe and, between 1993 and 1996, fondled or performed oral sex on him at least five times, the suit alleges.

Doe is seeking $16.25 million in damages, alleging sexual battery of a child, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Read the complaint here.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said that "every new claim we receive is taken seriously, just as the most recent one will be." Archbishop Sample declined to comment on the case, saying it was in attorneys' hands.

The accused

Creel, 64, now lives in St. Helens. He denied the allegations in the lawsuit, saying he hardly spent any time at Holy Cross. He didn't perform oral sex on an altar boy, he said.

"That's just nauseating to me to even think about," Creel said.

Creel pleaded guilty in 1995 to five counts of sexual abuse after repeatedly fondling a girl's breasts and served five years probation. The girl was a family member, Creel said. 

He readily admitted to the fondling, which happened around the same time that he allegedly abused Doe. But that girl was his sole victim, Creel said, seeming baffled that he was named in the suit.

Creel said he left the church around the time he was convicted. He is not a defendant in the case.

Father Brennan died in 2013 in his native Ireland, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

Doe put the blame for his alleged abuse squarely at the archdiocese's feet.

Church leadership knew of Creel's propensity towards sexual abuse, the suit claims, and knew of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in general. Yet the archdiocese allowed Doe to spend the night in the rectory with Brennan and Creel. And the church never warned Doe or his parents about the potential danger posed by abusive priests.

What's next

Doe's attorney, Kristian Roggendorf, said the archdiocese should be more transparent. Some records of abuse are still under seal, he said, and the archdiocese hasn't released a list of all credible allegations against priests.

"It's easy to say the right things," Roggendorf said. "It's a lot harder to do the right things."

After the service, Archbishop Sample stood outside and shook hands with the parishioners filing out and thanking him. Sample's homily had made an impression.

Linda van Wart, 75, said Sample is the church's primary hope for change and will be an aggressive advocate for victims. The church has a "complete cancer," van Wart said, so she will pray for Sample's strength and courage.

Sample has outlined measures to protect victims, both in his homily and in a statement released last week.

Investigations should include those who covered up abuse, not just the abusers themselves. Bishops should be held to the same standards as priests. And Sample proposed an independent investigation process that would involve people outside of the clergy.

"A body investigating itself does not inspire confidence in the objectivity of the outcome," he wrote.

Everyone who works with children in the archdiocese gets a background check and goes through special training, Sample said Sunday. Suspected abuse must be reported both within the church and to law enforcement. 

For Teresa Whalen, 57, the sexual abuse crisis means that Catholics have to stay strong in their faith while holding abusers accountable.

"This is satan fighting the church," she said. "He wants to destroy it."



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