13 More Join Man's Abuse Suit against Priest
The 25 Plaintiffs against an Oregon Cleric Make It One of the Nation's Largest Such Cases
By Michael Wilson
May 29, 2000
An old altar boy thinks back and feels the spicy sting of the scented incense, the aching arms holding open the hefty prayer book for the priest, the delicacy of the crystal cruets, the water and wine Father would turn into blood.
Joe Elliott thinks back 30 years and remembers more. The look from Father, in a group of boys, when the priest had chosen him. Father's harsh touch. Father's white cloth handkerchief, after.
Thirty years later, Elliott, 41, stops himself in the middle of his first interview about the sex abuse he says he suffered as an altar boy in Seaside -- stops in the middle of a sentence, and says:
"I don't want to call him Father anymore."
After 30 years, he was the first to publicly accuse the Rev. Maurice Grammond of sexual abuse and the Archdiocese of Portland of negligence in a December lawsuit. Slowly, 11 others joined him.
Then on Friday, yet another 13 former altar boys became new plaintiffs, bringing the total number of cases against Grammond to 25, making it the largest-known case of clergy abuse in Oregon and among the top in the nation.
The archdiocese defended its actions against Grammond in a statement Friday. The archbishop confronted the priest after an accusation in 1991, and Grammond denied the claims.
"The one Archbishop sent him for professional assessment and suspended him of all priestly ministry," the statement said. Grammond has not been charged with any crime.
Most of the plaintiffs had never met. They're now grown, live throughout Oregon -- one is homeless in Honolulu -- and range in age from 36 to 61. Their lawsuits describe sex abuses from the early 1950s at St. Mary's Home for Boys in Portland to the mid-1970s at Seaside.
"This case appears to be of the magnitude of any that have gone before," said attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who has represented some 350 victims in priest sex-abuse cases the past 20 years. He called Grammond "a wolf in shepherd's clothing."
Depositions of the men are under way behind closed doors. A trial date has not been set.
Grammond, 79, lives in the Alzheimer's unit at Encore Senior Village in Gresham. His lawyer, unavailable Friday, has declined comment as the number of plaintiffs increased.
The plaintiffs were just initials until last week, when J.W.E. agreed to an interview. He described his relationship with Grammond.
Joe Elliott became an altar boy at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Seaside at age 11, following in the footsteps of his big brother. Grammond, then in his mid-40s, had served at parishes in Portland, Beaverton and Oakridge before settling in as parish priest in Seaside, where he would stay almost 20 years. Elliott says Grammond always acted nervous, pacing and mumbling and fidgeting, but he said a fast Mass, he recalled, which went a long way in making the beachside priest popular.
On nice days after Mass, the priest routinely took four or five altar boys swimming at a hotel pool near the rectory. They'd change in Grammond's room, then shower there after, Elliott said. "You went in and showered and came out, and he was there with the towel," and actually dried the boys, Elliott said.
One Sunday in the rectory before Mass, Elliott said, Grammond sent other boys away to perform altar chores, keeping Elliott behind in the second-floor living quarters.
"He pulled me onto his lap," Elliott said. "He had on a white T-shirt and black priest pants."
Elliott said Grammond pulled down his fly and fondled him. It was the boy's first sexual experience. He had no idea what had just happened. "He left me in that room," Elliott said. "He went to say Mass."
"Joey," as he was called then, told no one. In the next two years, until he turned 13, Grammond abused him about 20 times that way, he said, usually in bed on sleepovers at the rectory or camping trips. "I could always tell when I was about to be singled out. There was a change," Elliott said. "There was a feeling when it was coming your way."
The abuse ended when he got a job at a mink farm at age 13 and stopped being an altar boy. He moved to Portland at 18 and looks back at two decades of failed relationships. Intimacy chilled him. He blamed his partners for asking for too much from him.
He became a popular hairdresser. The last time he saw Grammond was 20 years ago, in passing at a bingo hall on the coast.
He saw an advice column on surviving sex abuse in 1998 and clipped it. Then in 1999 he saw a TV movie on a pedophile priest in Louisiana. He read and reflected and finally wrote the archdiocese to report the abuse he'd suffered three decades ago.
Under Oregon's statute of limitations in sexual assault cases, an adult can seek compensation for child abuse as long as three years after he realizes the effect the abuse has had on his life. Elliott and the other plaintiffs each seek millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Elliott met with a vicar of clergy for the archdiocese. A couple of weeks later the church sent a letter: "Out of pastoral concern for what you believe happened to you, we will offer you counseling," Elliott said it read. They recommended he contact the church's attorney.
Angry, he called David Slader, a Portland attorney with a specialty in child abuse cases. Slader sued and soon was overwhelmed as clients came forth after seeing reports of the case. He called Anderson, the Minnesota attorney, for help.
"We have now documented five separate warnings to the archdiocese between 1960 and 1970 that Father Grammond was abusing altar boys," Slader said. "The archdiocese's action in 1991 was at least 31 years after they were first advised that they were employing a pedophile as a priest."
The archdiocese said it's "difficult to evaluate" whether previous archbishops addressed Grammond because they are dead.
After the first suit was filed, Elliott was strafed on talk radio as a liar after the church's money. The new plaintiffs validated him. At a recent plaintiffs' meeting, he saw some familiar faces from Seaside. They called him Joey.
"The archdiocese telling me to go to their lawyer, it's the best thing they could've done," he said. "In a roundabout way, they did us a service."
Joey will speak at a news conference today, leaving J.W.E. behind for good. "I now feel safe and believed and supported, and I see what good it's done the other survivors," he said. "I'll put my name on it. The shame isn't mine anymore. It's with the church."
You can reach Michael Wilson at 503-294-7663 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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