Former Altar Boy Files Suit Against Archdiocese

By Angie Brunkow
Omaha World Herald
September 2, 1998

A former altar boy at St. Richard Catholic Church filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Omaha Archdiocese and Daniel Herek, a priest who was convicted last week of fondling a boy in that parish.

The suit was filed in Douglas County District Court on behalf of John Doe, described as "an adult male whose identity is known to the defendants." The suit alleges that Herek molested John Doe but does not indicate whether he is the youth in the criminal case.

The archdiocese is negligent, the suit says, because it allowed Herek to continue to serve around boys in the church.

"Despite the fact that the archdiocese officials knew that Herek had exhibited dangerous pedophile traits, they did not remove him from contact with minor boys," attorney Harold Zabin wrote in the lawsuit.

Archdiocese officials have said that they received no complaints about Herek that warranted removing him from contact with children. The officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the lawsuit.

The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor of the archdiocese, said Wednesday that he would have no comment about the lawsuit until he has spoken to the archdiocese's attorney, Ed Hotz, and to Archbishop Elden Curtiss, who was out of town.

Herek's attorney, Steven Lefler, declined to comment.

Herek pleaded no contest Friday to charges that he sexually assaulted a boy, then 14, from St. Richard, 4320 Fort St., and that he manufactured and possessed child pornography. He is waiting to be sentenced.

The pornography charge stems from a videotape and two photographs of naked boys found by a cleaning woman in the St. Richard rectory in May 1997.

Lefler has said that the no-contest plea was made in part because of possible civil litigation. A no-contest plea cannot be used as evidence in a civil case.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that after gaining the trust of John Doe, Herek sexually assaulted, molested and exploited him on numerous occasions between 1992 and 1997.

"Herek's conduct toward the plaintiff was intentional and was done for his own personal gratification and without any concern for the consequences to the plaintiff," the suit says.

"He (the youth) will be mentally and emotionally scarred for the rest of his life," the suit says.

The lawsuit blames the archdiocese for failing to keep Herek away from young boys.

The suit says that at nine churches, Herek engaged boys in sexual contact or tried to. At some of the churches, the suit says, the priest gave boys alcoholic beverages.

The suit claims that the archdiocese knew that Herek possessed pornographic magazines and that he was seen in the presence of partially clothed young boys. The archdiocese also knew, according to the suit, that Herek fondled boys and had an alcohol problem.

"The archdiocese did not warn the staff or church leadership or parents ... of his pedophilic tendencies and alcoholism abuse," the suit says.

The suit says Herek would take altar boys into his "private living quarters," have them spend the night and take them on trips. He purchased gifts with church funds to "seduce and tighten his bond to (the boys) and illegally gave alcohol to them in order to sexually molest them," the suit says.

Herek has been a priest in the archdiocese for 26 years, serving in a total of 11 parishes in Omaha and the Nebraska communities of Coleridge, Belden and Beemer. He served the St. Richard parish for five years.

His case is not unique, although it is not clear that clergymen are involved in child sexual assault more often than the general population.

In June, Bishop Joseph Keith Symons of the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., was removed after admitting to sexually abusing minors early in his career.

In July, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas agreed to pay a total of $ 30.5 million to 11 former altar boys who were sexually abused by former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos. A Dallas jury had originally awarded the plaintiffs $ 119 million, the largest judgment ever in a clergy sexual molestation case in the United States.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.