Archdiocese Faces New Lawsuit

By Ashbel S. Green
February 24, 2004

Summary: A now-retired priest who served in several parishes after going through rehabilitation is accused of sexual abuse by two men Two men filed suit Monday in Portland accusing a now-retired priest of sexually molesting them in the 1970s when they were students at Central Catholic High School.

The suit names the Rev. Joseph Baccellieri, 63, who retired in 2002 after serving as a pastor in churches in Sherwood, Hillsboro and Portland.

He is the 38th named priest in the Portland Archdiocese to be accused of abusing minors since 1938.

David Slader, the attorney for the two anonymous plaintiffs, played a tape of what he said was a telephone conversation between one of the plaintiffs and Baccellieri that was secretly recorded last month.

In the recording, the voice identified by Slader as Baccellieri's seemed to acknowledge molesting the plaintiff and also said the plaintiff was not the only victim. He also said that after being accused in 1992, he entered a support group for "sex addicts."

Slader criticized Portland Archdiocese officials for allowing Baccellieri to serve in several parishes after he returned from rehabilitation in 1994.

"He had unsupervised access to children," Slader said Monday morning at a news conference in his office. "None of the parents in these parishes were warned."

Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the archdiocese, disputed Slader's claim.

"At all times, he was very closely monitored, continuously in counseling and therapy," Bunce said. "His therapist regularly reported to the archdiocese. There were limitations on his ministry activities. And his residential situation was closely monitored."

Baccellieri could not be reached for comment Monday. Directory assistance said his phone number was unlisted.

Bunce said Baccellieri served at St. Francis in Sherwood from 1988 to 1992, when archdiocese officials placed him on leave after they learned of sex abuse accusations against him from the 1970s. After returning from rehabilitation in 1994, he served as an assistant pastor at St. Matthews in Hillsboro until 1995; as co-pastor at North Portland Catholic Community from 1995 to 1998; as pastor at Sacred Heart in Southeast Portland from 1998 to 2001; and simultaneously as pastor at St. Agatha in Southeast Portland from 1999 to 2001.

He was on the faculty at Central Catholic from 1966 to 1978.

Bunce said that in 2001, Baccellieri studied canon law. When Baccellieri returned in 2002, he retired because of a new national policy prohibiting any priest facing a credible sex abuse accusation from serving in the ministry.

Baccellieri was the only archdiocesan priest who needed to be removed based on the new policy, Bunce said.

Bill Crane, representative of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized Archbishop John G. Vlazny for refusing to reveal Baccellieri's name earlier.

"Once again, Vlazny embraces a culture of secrecy," Crane said Monday.

Each plaintiff in the suit is seeking $3.8 million.

The suit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court two days after Vlazny said in a letter to parishioners that the archdiocese and its insurers had spent $53 million, most of it in the last few years, to settle with 133 people who claimed they were abused by priests from 1950 to 2003.

The settlement is the second-largest figure reported in the nation, according to a review of news reports by The Oregonian, behind the $95 million paid by the Archdiocese of Boston. Not all dioceses have reported figures. A national diocese-by-diocese report on sex abuse is expected to be released Friday.

Vlazny reported that about 50 cases still were pending against the Portland Archdiocese.

Former Archbishop William Levada made the decision to allow Baccellieri back into the ministry, Bunce said. Levada is archbishop of San Francisco. A spokesman said he was on retreat and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Oregon law requires certain people, including clergy, to report suspected child abuse. Bunce said that at the time, church officials did not think the law required them to report old cases of abuse, as was the case with Baccellieri.

Under a new policy, Bunce said church officials would report old accusations.


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