Abbey Clears Monk, 75, of Molesting Boy in 1960s

By Ashbel S. Green
The Oregonian
September 4, 2004

Summary: A lay review committee makes the recommendation, saying there isn't enough evidence against the Rev. Cosmas White "Given the very, very limited circumstances of this situation and given the age of the priest, I personally do not have any objections." -- DAN GATTI,


The head of Mount Angel Abbey has cleared a Benedictine monk accused of molesting a boy in the 1960s, the first time in Oregon that Catholic officials have lifted restrictions on a clergy member accused of sexual abuse.

Abbot Nathan Zodrow last week accepted the recommendation of a lay review committee, which determined that the evidence did not support the accusation against the Rev. Cosmas White.

The decision means White can rejoin his fellow monks in public Mass and prayer at the abbey, said Rita Kester, director of communications for Mount Angel. Ever since the 2002 lawsuit against him, White has been allowed only to pray and celebrate Mass privately, although he was permitted to join other monks for nonreligious group activities such as meals, Kester said.

White was pastor at St. Paul Church in Silverton when an anonymous man filed a lawsuit accusing him of molesting him. Kester said White, 75, has retired and did not ask to return to a parish.

Parishioners at St. Agatha's Church in Southeast Portland, where White had served as pastor for more than 20 years, learned of the news after Mass last Sunday.

"We always knew he wasn't guilty of this," said parishioner Jo Anne Schubbe. "He's been a real beloved pastor in our parish, and everybody feels the same as I do."

The announcement was made a day before the opening of the new St. Agatha's School, for which White had helped raise money to build, Schubbe said.

Dan Gatti, the Salem attorney for White's accuser, said he didn't oppose lifting restrictions in part because the alleged abuse was relatively minor and no other victims have come forward.

"Given the very, very limited circumstances of this situation and given the age of the priest, I personally do not have any objections," said Gatti, who represents dozens of priest accusers.

During the past half century, about 200 people have accused about 40 priests in Western Oregon of sexually molesting them.

The vast majority of the accusations were made in the past five years. The Portland Archdiocese and its insurers had spent more than $53 million on settlements before the church sought bankruptcy protection in July.

Religious orders, including the Benedictines of Mount Angel Abbey, and their insurers have spent additional money on settlements, but officials have not revealed how much.

Most of the 40 accused priests are dead. Most of the dozen accused clergy who are living maintain their innocence.

According to court records, the suit against White was filed in June 2002. The accuser, who filed under the initials R.J.K., said White molested him while he was a student at Mount Angel Seminary Preparatory High School for boys.

White was a teacher. The school has since closed.

The lawsuit was settled for a nominal amount of money two months after it was filed, Kester said.

After the settlement was reached, Kester said the judicial vicar of the Portland Archdiocese investigated the claim against White, eventually recommending that the evidence did not support the accusation. A lay committee, which was set up by the abbey as part of a national move by the Catholic church to address clergy sex abuse, agreed with the recommendation and forwarded it to Zodrow.

Gatti said the case against White was going to be difficult to prove because there were no other accusers and his client had serious mental problems unrelated to his abuse.

"It was a tough case," Gatti said. But "I really believe my client."


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