12 Join Suit against Former Oregon Priest
By Ashbel S. Green
June 25, 2002
Twelve men have joined a lawsuit against the Diocese of Baker accusing a former Eastern Oregon priest of sexually abusing them between the late 1950s and the late 1970s.
The Rev. David Hazen, who served in at least a dozen parishes during his nearly 30-year career, died in 1983.
With 16 total plaintiffs, Hazen now ranks second among accused abusive priests in Oregon, behind Maurice Grammond, who's accused of molesting more than 40 boys when he was a priest in Seaside, Oakridge and elsewhere.
David Slader, the Portland attorney handling the suit, filed Thursday in Deschutes County Circuit Court, said the Hazen case is particularly egregious because documents prove Baker Diocese officials received repeated warnings and still moved the priest to different parishes.
"The coverup is in writing," Slader said. "It's an obstruction of justice."
Each plaintiff seeks $3.8 million.
Bishop Robert Vasa of the Baker Diocese said he did not know about the additional plaintiffs to the suit, first filed in December. He said the documents Slader mentioned needed to be studied through the legal process.
"I'm really not at liberty to discuss this ongoing case," Vasa said.
Hazen was born in La Grande in 1928 and ordained in 1956, Slader said. He served in parishes in The Dalles, La Grande and Pendleton, and traveled throughout Eastern Oregon to conduct Mass in smaller communities that did not have a regular priest, Slader said.
After a report of sexual abuse in 1959, the Diocese investigated Hazen, who signed a confession, according to a copy Slader discovered.
Then-Bishop Francis P. Leipzig sent Hazen to Milwaukee, Wis., to be treated by what he described in a letter to another bishop as a "good Catholic psychiatrist."
The therapist later reported that Hazen had responded well to treatment, Slader said.
Hazen was sent to Klamath Falls around 1960 to serve at St. Pius X Catholic Church. It was during his six-year stint there that 14 current accusers say he molested them.
Slader has uncovered an undated letter to Leipzig from Monsignor Timothy P. Casey, the priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Klamath Falls and the dean of the southern part of the diocese. In the letter, his annual report on the region, Casey writes that a young man said Hazen put his arms around him and asked about his sexual experiences.
Casey also referred obliquely to another matter involving Hazen in which another priest "was drawing conclusions from circumstances that look very bad and, if true, could be very damaging."
Casey says he knew about Hazen's previous treatment and urged more. "Perhaps treatment at this time might help him again and save him. Without it, a crash might come at any time," he wrote.
In a follow-up letter to Leipzig in April 1966, Casey said Hazen needed to get out of town because rumors were about to start flying.
"I believe it would be better for Father Hazen to be transferred to a parish as far away as possible from Klamath Falls. I think it would be good for him to know that he was in a place where there was no danger of gossip," Casey wrote.
Slader said Leipzig brought Hazen back to the cathedral in Baker in 1966. A few years later, Hazen moved around the diocese again, serving in Ontario, Vale, Burns and Wasco. In 1978, the diocese loaned him to the Portland Archdiocese, which assigned him to Junction City.
One plaintiff said Hazen sexually abused him there.
In 1982, Hazen served in another Portland Archdiocese parish, St. Alice in Springfield, then moved to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Wasco just before he died, Slader said.
The first investigation into Hazen's conduct was triggered by Bruce Nehl, 57, who told his parents that Hazen molested him in 1959 on an overnight trip to Arlington.
Nehl eventually spoke with Leipzig.
"He had me swear on the Gospels that I would not reveal this to anyone on pain of mortal sin, which basically means to go to hell," Nehl said Monday. "When you're 14, a mortal sin is a pretty big thing.
Nehl said the abuse triggered schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which plagued him for 30 years and led to several hospitalizations.
In 1997, Nehl hired a lawyer and settled with the diocese for a small sum and counseling. He said he has finally begun to get his life together the past five years.
Nehl is works in a Portland-area grocery store and has remained active in the Catholic church.
"Most of the priests I've met have been outstanding individuals," he said. "I just got a real rotten one to begin with."
After speaking with Slader, Nehl said he went public now for the sake of other victims.
"I wanted to let people know that this has got to stop," he said. "And that those who were damaged should be compensated spiritually or economically or both."
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