Friday, December 31, 2010

Priest sues Mt. Angel Abbey for more than $1 million for sexual mistreatment

A Roman Catholic priest who says he was sexually mistreated as a teenager in the 1970s by a priest at Mt. Angel Abbey is suing the abbey for more than $1 million.

The priest, who was ordained in 1986, is identified in the lawsuit only as Father X.

One of his attorneys, Bill Barton, said he believes it is the first time that an active priest has sued an entity of the Roman Catholic Church for sexually inappropriate behavior. 

The suit claims that the late Father Emmanuel Clark hugged Father X with his pants unzipped; pressed Father X’s head to his chest and told him that his heart beat with love for him; and encouraged Father X to go to adult book stores.

Barton said his client thought carefully about whether he would seek compensation for a lifetime of damages caused by the alleged abuse.

“He’s a man of great conscience and integrity, and this is not an easy thing for him to do,” Barton said. The suit was filed Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

According to the suit, the sexually inappropriate behavior caused Father X physical and emotional pain, an eating disorder, shame, anxiety, sexual orientation confusion, loss of professional identity and loss of his religious faith.

Stephen English, a Portland attorney representing the abbey, noted that none of the alleged conduct involved sexual touching. English said he will fully investigate whether the alleged hugging and other conduct by the now-deceased priest led to the damages Father X claims.

“Mt. Angel Abbey absolutely condemns any form of child abuse or inappropriate conduct,” English said.

Father X claims he was mistreated by Clark while attending the high school, Mt. Angel Preparatory, between the ages of 14 and 17. 

The high school no longer exists, but the abbey still operates a seminary in the tiny community of St. Benedict about 40 miles south of Portland.
Father X is approximately 50 years old today, although the lawsuit doesn’t list his exact age or city where he lives or works.
Oregon law allows childhood victims of sexual abuse to sue up until age 40, or within five years of recognizing that the abuse has damaged them.