OMAHA, Neb. — Amid rapid fire clicks and flashes of reporters' cameras, the archbishop of Nebraska's largest Roman Catholic diocese for the first time publicly answered questions about sexual abuse by priests.

Saying he hoped the world would learn from the crisis that has engulfed the Catholic Church in America, Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss answered every question asked him at a news conference Friday to announce the 11 members of a sexual abuse allegation review board.

ŒŒAll of us have learned that there are sick people out there that you have to deal with,” Curtiss said. ŒŒIn the past, we didn't understand the sickness that was involved in pedophelia.”

Review boards for every diocese were made mandatory in June during a national conference of bishops in a year that saw at least 300 of the 46,000 American priests removed because of allegations of molestation.

The largest of Nebraska's three Catholic dioceses, the Omaha Archdiocese includes 214,000 people in 157 parishes from Omaha to O'Neill. The Diocese of Lincoln plans to name a review board within two months, according to its chancellor, the Rev. Mark Huber. The Diocese of Grand Island has long had a review board, according to a secretary who declined to be named.

Curtiss was criticized last year by parishioners and a prosecutor after he transferred a priest from Norfolk to Ralston without telling anyone — including police — that the priest had admitted to viewing child pornography on the Internet.

Police learned the Rev. Robert Allgaier had been viewing child pornography after a tip from an elementary school teacher in Norfolk.

Allgaier was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $300 fine for viewing child pornography over the Internet. He remains a priest, Curtiss said.

In addition, three priests in the archdiocese over the last year were accused of sexual abuse and placed on administrative dismissal. That decision by Curtiss banned Anthony A. Petrusic, Thomas J. Sellentin and John C. Starostka from publicly offering Mass.

In June, the archdiocese admitted liability in the case of an altar boy abused in the mid-1990s by one-time priest Daniel Herek. A jury awarded a total of $800,000 to the former altar boy and his mother.

The archdiocese settled six other lawsuits for undisclosed amounts related to the sexual abuse of other former altar boys by Herek, who spent 2 1/2 years in prison after his 1998 conviction of sexual assault of a child and making child pornography. He was committed to a state psychiatric facility in Lincoln following his release.

Throughout the year, Curtiss declined requests for interviews about the sexual abuse issue.

Curtiss said he had not been more receptive to media questions before Friday because he wasn't sure how to respond to accusations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Mishandling accusations of sexual abuse of children extends well beyond the Catholic Church, Curtiss said. Parents and others in authority have also been complicit in turning a blind eye to the problem — a trend he hopes to see the Catholic Church help end.

ŒŒThere was a conspiracy of silence. And that conspiracy of silence is over. Thank God,” he said.

The Omaha Archdiocese announced in October that it had begun creating its review board. Asked why it took three months to compile the board, Curtiss noted that the archdiocese had named its board two months before the March 1 deadline set by the national conference of bishops.

The review board will advise Curtiss on the credibility of allegations, any policy changes it deems necessary and the fitness of accused priests for ministry. Curtiss will decide whether to accept the board's recommendations.

ŒŒWhen people come to a consensus and feel very strongly about it, I'd be very foolish not to pay attention to it,” Curtiss said.

Asked how he feels about the numerous accusations of abuse by priests, Curtiss said he was sickened by the thought.

ŒŒA priest is called 'father' because he is a spiritual father to people. If he misuses that role of father, it's reprehensible to any of us who love the church,” he said.

The board will review allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the archdiocese, whether the alleged abuse is recent or decades old.

Allegations will be reported to police, then the review board will hire someone trained in abuse issues to conduct the church's own investigation, said Tom Dowd, a member of the task force that selected review board members.

Insurance coverage held by the church pays for settlements made on sexual abuse lawsuits, Curtiss said Friday. No donations to the church go directly to help pay those settlements, he said, but he did acknowledge that parishioner offerings pay the premiums on the insurance policies.

Curtiss said Friday he knew of no other sexual abuse allegations made against priests in the Omaha Archdiocese.

——

On the Net

Archdiocese of Omaha: http://www.archomaha.com/

Eds: AMs. UPDATES throughout with details on the review board, background of church abuse allegations in archdiocese. May stand.

With BC-NE—Church-Review Board

AP Photo AH101-AH103 of Jan. 3

mbjmr1

By MARGERY BECK

Associated Press Writer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Amid rapid fire clicks and flashes of reporters' cameras, the archbishop of Nebraska's largest Roman Catholic diocese for the first time publicly answered questions about sexual abuse by priests.

Saying he hoped the world would learn from the crisis that has engulfed the Catholic Church in America, Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss answered every question asked him at a news conference Friday to announce the 11 members of a sexual abuse allegation review board.

ŒŒAll of us have learned that there are sick people out there that you have to deal with,” Curtiss said. ŒŒIn the past, we didn't understand the sickness that was involved in pedophelia.”

Review boards for every diocese were made mandatory in June during a national conference of bishops in a year that saw at least 300 of the 46,000 American priests removed because of allegations of molestation.

The largest of Nebraska's three Catholic dioceses, the Omaha Archdiocese includes 214,000 people in 157 parishes from Omaha to O'Neill. The Diocese of Lincoln plans to name a review board within two months, according to its chancellor, the Rev. Mark Huber. The Diocese of Grand Island has long had a review board, according to a secretary who declined to be named.

Curtiss was criticized last year by parishioners and a prosecutor after he transferred a priest from Norfolk to Ralston without telling anyone — including police — that the priest had admitted to viewing child pornography on the Internet.

Police learned the Rev. Robert Allgaier had been viewing child pornography after a tip from an elementary school teacher in Norfolk.

Allgaier was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $300 fine for viewing child pornography over the Internet. He remains a priest, Curtiss said.

In addition, three priests in the archdiocese over the last year were accused of sexual abuse and placed on administrative dismissal. That decision by Curtiss banned Anthony A. Petrusic, Thomas J. Sellentin and John C. Starostka from publicly offering Mass.

In June, the archdiocese admitted liability in the case of an altar boy abused in the mid-1990s by one-time priest Daniel Herek. A jury awarded a total of $800,000 to the former altar boy and his mother.

The archdiocese settled six other lawsuits for undisclosed amounts related to the sexual abuse of other former altar boys by Herek, who spent 2 1/2 years in prison after his 1998 conviction of sexual assault of a child and making child pornography. He was committed to a state psychiatric facility in Lincoln following his release.

Throughout the year, Curtiss declined requests for interviews about the sexual abuse issue.

Curtiss said he had not been more receptive to media questions before Friday because he wasn't sure how to respond to accusations of sexual misconduct by priests.

Mishandling accusations of sexual abuse of children extends well beyond the Catholic Church, Curtiss said. Parents and others in authority have also been complicit in turning a blind eye to the problem — a trend he hopes to see the Catholic Church help end.

ŒŒThere was a conspiracy of silence. And that conspiracy of silence is over. Thank God,” he said.

The Omaha Archdiocese announced in October that it had begun creating its review board. Asked why it took three months to compile the board, Curtiss noted that the archdiocese had named its board two months before the March 1 deadline set by the national conference of bishops.

The review board will advise Curtiss on the credibility of allegations, any policy changes it deems necessary and the fitness of accused priests for ministry. Curtiss will decide whether to accept the board's recommendations.

ŒŒWhen people come to a consensus and feel very strongly about it, I'd be very foolish not to pay attention to it,” Curtiss said.

Asked how he feels about the numerous accusations of abuse by priests, Curtiss said he was sickened by the thought.

ŒŒA priest is called 'father' because he is a spiritual father to people. If he misuses that role of father, it's reprehensible to any of us who love the church,” he said.

The board will review allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the archdiocese, whether the alleged abuse is recent or decades old.

Allegations will be reported to police, then the review board will hire someone trained in abuse issues to conduct the church's own investigation, said Tom Dowd, a member of the task force that selected review board members.

Insurance coverage held by the church pays for settlements made on sexual abuse lawsuits, Curtiss said Friday. No donations to the church go directly to help pay those settlements, he said, but he did acknowledge that parishioner offerings pay the premiums on the insurance policies.

Curtiss said Friday he knew of no other sexual abuse allegations made against priests in the Omaha Archdiocese.

——

On the Net

Archdiocese of Omaha: http://www.archomaha.com/

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.