Parishioners Hear Response to Mount Angel Abuse Charges

By Michael Wilson
Oregonian [Mount Angel]
April 15, 2002

Summary: A letter from the abbot, read in pulpits, condemns "child sex abuse as well as abuse of any kind against anyone" Sunday was the day of First Communion for many young Catholic children, and as they took the sacrament they were all smiles in their dresses and suits, and the priests congratulated them and the congregations clapped.

Then, in Sacred Heart Church in Gervais, the Rev. Kenneth Jacques stood and asked all the children to please leave the room. He had an announcement just for the adults.

News of sexual-abuse claims against two priests at nearby Mount Angel stunned parishioners in the small Willamette Valley churches below the hilltop seminary and the Mount Angel Abbey. Priests read a letter and news release from the Right Rev. Nathan Zodrow, abbot of Mount Angel, from several area pulpits Sunday.

"The monks of Mount Angel Abbey condemn child sex abuse as well as abuse of any kind against anyone," Zodrow wrote, calling the accusations brought by David Schmidt "appalling and profoundly disturbing."

Schmidt, 58, a banker in Coulee Dam, Wash., filed a lawsuit Friday in Multnomah County against the Archdiocese of Portland, the archbishop, the abbey and the Benedictine order of priests. Schmidt said that in 1950 or 1951, when he was about 7, the Rev. Clement Frank, then a priest at St. Mary Church in Mount Angel, raped him in the church basement. Frank died in 1996 at age 89 and is buried in the small abbey cemetery.

Second, Schmidt's suit accuses the Rev. Louis Charvet, 82, of using sexually explicit language and masturbating in front of him in the late 1950s, when Schmidt was 13 and entering the seminary, where Charvet ran the dorm. Charvet was, until Thursday, assisting Jacques at Sacred Heart. He was recalled to the abbey pending an investigation into Schmidt's charges, and abbey officials declined to allow interviews.

Neither priest had been accused before, church spokesmen said. Schmidt said he'd blocked out all memory of the alleged abuse until, after many sessions with a therapist, he remembered in April 1999.

Both priests are revered by parishioners.

"The holiest people around," said longtime Mount Angel middle school teacher Fran Piatz, 67, after Mass at St. Mary. "It was a shock to hear both of the names because they were both, as far as we're concerned, very holy people."

"They're both saints, in my book," said another parishioner. "I'm not saying priests aren't human and that this can't happen, but not those two. Not those two."

She, like many at the two churches Sunday, was quick to defend but leery of giving her name. Jacques, from the pulpit, went so far as to warn parishioners not to speak of the cases because of a risk of being subpoenaed.

Another parishioner: "If it wouldn't have been for Father Clement, I wouldn't have graduated from high school," he said. "Out of the whole bunch you knew all your life, those are the two you'd least suspect."

At St. Mary, the Rev. Vincent Trujillo asked parishioners to pray for priests and pointed out the timeliness of Sunday's gospels, from Luke, which, but for the dated diction, might have been snatches of overheard, troubled conversation Sunday: "He asked them, 'What are you discussing as you walk along?' They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?' "


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