Sisters' Suit Alleges Sex Abuse in 1940s

By Michael Wilson
The Oregonian
November 6, 2001

Summary: An $8.6 million lawsuit filed by two women accuses a Catholic priest who no longer is living

In a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland, two sisters say a Catholic priest abused them when they moved into a home for girls after the disastrous 1948 Vanport flood.

The priest, the Rev. Carl Wachter, died in 1992. He served as assistant pastor or pastor from 1939 to 1983 in several Oregon parishes, including in Milwaukie, Lebanon, Monroe, Coos Bay and Portland.

The girls, identified in the lawsuit by the initials P.L. and R.E., and their family attended St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Vanport, where Wachter was pastor, until the flood wiped out their home and they entered the Christie School for girls in Portland, then run by the archdiocese, the lawsuit states.

Wachter visited the girls there and performed sex acts, the lawsuit states. Once, a nun walked in on the act, turned and left and never told anyone, the suit states. The girls did not report the alleged abuse to anyone at the time.

The archdiocese condemned sex abuse in general in a statement Monday but denied knowledge of any abuse by Wachter.

"At this point, the archdiocese has no information indicating that Father Wachter was ever involved in harmful activity with anyone," said archdiocese Chancellor Mary Jo Tully. "Dealing with a lawsuit involving things which allegedly happened more than 50 years ago in the 1940s, and when the priest who allegedly was involved is long since dead, presents great challenges to the legal system as well as to the archdiocese."

The sisters were 7 and 8 years old at the time. Now 60 and 61, they seek $8.6 million in damages in the suit, filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

"We buried our feelings, but the memories continued to haunt us," the sisters said through their lawyer, David Slader, in a statement. "We have decided that we cannot live out our lives keeping the abuse a secret."

Oregon law allows victims of child abuse to file claims even if alleged sexual abuse took place decades earlier. In 1999, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the archdiocese can be held liable as the employer of an abusive priest.


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