Juneau Catholic diocese names clergy accused of sexual misconduct;Three priests served in Haines

By Kyle Clayton And Jenna Kunze
Chilkat Valley News
August 22, 2019

On Aug. 21, the Catholic Diocese of Juneau released a report naming seven priests credibly alleged to have committed acts of sexual misconduct with minors and vulnerable adults—three of whom served at Sacred Heart Church in Haines from as far back as 1959, to as recent as 2007.

The Dioecies of Juneau established an independent commission in December 2018 to review files of alleged sexual assault dating back to 1951 when the parish was established. The five-member commission included law enforcement officers, lawyers and retired judges.

The commission was charged with evaluating all charges of reported sexual misconduct “to determine whether there was credible evidence to support the belief that any of them had engaged in sexual misconduct, as well as an accounting of improper handling of any sexual abuse cases by those in authority.”

Among the accused are Edmund Penisten, who served in Haines from 2004 to 2007, Javier Gutierrez (1986 to 1988), and Francis Cowgill (1959 to 1964).

Penisten is alleged to have viewed child pornography in 2010, and put on administrative leave in 2019, according to the report.

Gutierrez was dismissed from the priesthood in 2018, and is alleged to have had sexual misconduct involving minors and vulnerable people in the 1980s.

A 2002 San Diego Union Tribune report reprinted on states that Gutierrez was accused of kissing a 16-year-old Haines girl against her wishes. According to notes taken from a bishop at the time, Gutierrez admitted to kissing the girl, but denied it to news reporters. “There was a simple embrace, about five seconds,” (Gutierrez) said in the article. “I am Mexican, and didn’t understand the culture, and things that for us seem a little bit lighter, for Americans are very strict and different...I saw the seriousness and went to a psychologist to help me understand the culture.”

Gutierrez left Alaska after the incident and was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, according to the report.

According to a statement released by the diocese, “records indicate several incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior involving minors occurred while (Gutierrez) was serving as a priest in Southeast Alaska.”

Penisten was removed from his post in Sitka in 2010 after he was caught viewing child pornography on parish computers, according to a 2010 KRBD report. He was also sent down south for “evaluation and assessment.”

Cogwill, who died in 2000, was accused of sexual misconduct involving minors from 1956 to 1964. He was the priest in Haines for five of those years. The diocese’s director of communications would not verify if or how many reports originated from Haines.

“The Diocese is aware that there may be other instances of sexual misconduct against minors and vulnerable adults that have not been identified in the Commission’s review or that have not been reported,” Bishop Andrew Bellisario wrote in a letter attached to the report.

Sacred Heart members this week have expressed shock at the news. Parishioner Jim Studley said he knew Penisten. “I always thought he was a hard ass, but never that he had done anything in Haines,” Studley said. “I’m saddened that it occurred and I’m thankful that they’re rooting out the things that are heinous acts against humanity.”

“The whole thing is just horrible,” said longtime church member Randa Szymanski.

Current Sacred Heart pastor Perry Kenaston referred the press to the Juneau diocese for comment.

Sacred Heart deacon Vince Hansen was traveling and unavailable for comment at press time Wednesday.

Bellisario established the independent review on the heels of “shocking revelations” last year from the grand jury report in Pennsylvania that identified 301 priests accused of abusing more than 1,000 children, paired with the July resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over allegations of sexual assault credited by a church panel.

Bellisario urged victims who have not reported abuse from church representatives to report to their local law enforcement officer, or call Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at 586-2227 extension 25.



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