Anchorage Archdiocese Named in Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Kenai: Priest allegedly molested girl for eight years before his death in 1992

By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News
December 23, 2005

A former Kenai priest, now dead, abused a teenage girl in Kenai starting when she was 8 or 9 and continuing for eight years, a new lawsuit contends.

The late Rev. Robert Wells served as a priest in Our Lady of the Angels parish in Kenai from 1974 to 1988, when he moved to Sacred Heart Parish in Seward. He had a heart attack in 1990, had a heart transplant that year, and died in 1992, according to his obituary.

The new suit, filed last week in Anchorage Superior Court by Kenai attorney James Butler and Seattle attorney Michael Phau, names as defendants the Archdiocese of Anchorage and Our Lady of the Angels parish in Kenai.

It contends the archdiocese and the parish knew or should have known that Wells was a "dangerous child molester" who shouldn't work around children.

Yet he still was assigned to serve as parish priest.

Wells held her, licked her ear and neck, made her "take naps" with him and rubbed his penis against her, the lawsuit contends.

After he died, the young woman, called only Jane Doe in the suit, told the archdiocese about the abuse and said she wanted to remain anonymous, the suit said. The church agreed, and paid for counseling, the suit said.

"By the agreement, Jane Doe remained anonymous and the Archdiocese was able to avoid public scrutiny," the suit said.

Under pressure to be candid about molesting priests after national outrage over how the church had handled priest abuse cases, the archdiocese publicly identified Wells as a priest accused of sexual abuse in 2004.

A letter from Archbishop Roger Schwietz to parishes in the archdiocese said there was a single sex abuse victim and that the victim was a girl who lived in Kenai, and that the church had permission from the victim to reveal Wells' identity, the suit said.

But the church didn't have permission, the lawsuit said. It contends the release of the information effectively identified the young woman as the sexual abuse victim and escalated her painful memories.

Officials with the archdiocese declined to comment on the lawsuit.


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