Rev. Petrusic Denies Sex-Abuse Allegation

By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald
June 21, 2002

The Rev. Anthony Petrusic's attorney issued a statement Thursday denying that the priest had molested a teen-age boy, an allegation that was reported Sunday by The World-Herald. (SEE CORRECTION)

"I am troubled that anyone would make such accusations accusing me of sexual abuse of a minor," Petrusic said in a press release from his attorney, Tim Kielty of Omaha.

Petrusic, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in south Omaha from 1969 to 1988, was prominent in Omaha politics and in the Catholic Church. Now 71, Petrusic left Omaha in 1990 and is listed in the Omaha Archdiocese directory as retired and living in Hollywood, Fla.

Officials of the Miami and Omaha Archdioceses said the Miami Archdiocese revoked his priestly faculties in April after the Omaha Archdiocese informed Miami that a man interviewed by The World-Herald had alleged sexual abuse.

The decision means that Petrusic cannot function as a priest, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Willet Mather, now 40 and living in Colorado, grew up in Omaha under another name. Mather said the priest invited him several times to the priest's cabin on Lake Wa-con-da, south of Plattsmouth, in 1976 and 1977.

Petrusic said in the press release: "In the course of my ministry I have worked with literally tens of thousands of people from all walks of life, with a multitude of problems and differing personalities. I can only assume that somewhere along the line someone has become disgruntled for whatever reason. I believe this situation to be most unfortunate, as it has caused not only grief and sorrow to myself, but to all of those who truly know me."

Kielty said some of Mather's statements "do not pass the test of reasonableness." He questioned Mather's statement that he could not remember the name of a priest at the archdiocese office whom Mather says he told in the mid-1980s that he had been abused.

"Certainly the accuser would remember the name of the person he claims to have met with, if indeed the person he claims to have spoken with, was a 'high-ranking priest,'" the press release said.

Kielty also questioned Mather's recollection that an archdiocesan official told him that Petrusic had been transferred out of the country. "Petrusic is a diocesan priest and would not be transferred under any circumstance out of the country for such reasons as alleged," the lawyer said.

Petrusic became president of the Croatian Cultural Union of the United States and Canada in 1990 and made trips to Croatia, but never had a foreign assignment for the church.

Archbishop Daniel Sheehan, who headed the Omaha Archdiocese when Mather says he reported the abuse, retired in 1993 and died in 2000. The Rev. Eldon McKamy, who was chancellor at the time, now is a hospital chaplain in Oregon. He did not return a phone call Thursday.

Kielty said Petrusic was transferred from Sts. Peter and Paul to St. Elizabeth Ann Parish in 1988 "to assist that parish through some struggling financial problems."

The press release says, "Kielty said that he has known Father Petrusic since his ordination and that Kielty and many, many others had been youth at that time and that 'never, never had there been any indication of any such conduct whatsoever' and that Father Petrusic's conduct was 'always most appropriate around youth.'"

"Why did this accuser not go to the media 25 years ago when it would have been appropriate?" the lawyer asked.

CORRECTION-DATE: June 22, 2002


A sentence was clarified for the online version. It has been corrected.


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