Omaha Archdiocese Faces three More Abuse Lawsuits

Associated Press
March 6, 2003

Three brothers filed lawsuits against the Omaha Achdiocese on Thursday, accusing a priest of sexually abusing them while they were altar boys and church volunteers.

Richard, Thomas and Steven Schommer claim that the Rev. Thomas Sellentin sexually molested, abused or exploited them from 1976 through 1980, while he was pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Spencer.

The lawsuits filed in Douglas County District Court also name Sellentin and accuse the priest and the Roman Catholic archdiocese of conspiring to conceal information relating to Sellentin's sexual misconduct. They are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress and medical or psychological treatment.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Michael Gutgsell, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

An attorney for the Schommers, David Copple of Norfolk, also did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

Sellentin was removed from his duties as a priest and granted early retirement last April after the archdiocese received reports of Sellentin sexually abusing boys more than 30 years ago.

Archdiocesan officials said the complaints had come in as the Catholic Church nationwide was flooded with claims of abuse by priests. Nothing in Sellentin's file had indicated that accusations of child sexual abuse had been made through the years, Gutgsell had said.

In the lawsuits Thursday, the brothers' attorneys said the Schommers did not know about accusations against Sellentin in other parishes until April, and that knowledge triggered the lawsuits.

Archbishop Elden Curtiss said in April that the accusations were too old to be prosecuted, but Curtiss felt they were credible enough to remove Sellentin from his work as pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Bend and St. Leo Parish in Snyder.

The archdiocese also said in April it had received accusations against Sellentin from four other Nebraska parishes, including St. Joan of Arc of Omaha, St. Mary in West Point, St. Peter in Fullerton and Holy Family in Lindsay.

Sellentin was among three priests accused of sexual abuse and placed on administrative dismissal over the last year. Curtiss also banned the Rev. Anthony A. Petrusic and the Rev. John C. Starostka from publicly offering Mass.

Another priest, the Rev. Robert Allgaier, was sentenced last year to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $300 fine for viewing child pornography over the Internet.

In June, the archdiocese admitted liability in the case of another altar boy abused in the mid-1990s by former priest Daniel Herek. A jury awarded a total of $800,000 to the former altar boy and his mother.

The archdiocese settled six other lawsuits for undisclosed amounts related to the sexual abuse of other former altar boys be Herek.


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