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Archbishop: Abuse Allegations Go Back Prior To 1987

May 13, 2003 | AP The Catholic archbishop in Mobile said in a 1995 deposition for a lawsuit claiming sexual abuse by a church official that the archdiocese had received similar allegations earlier than 1987.

But Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb said he probably could count on one hand the number of times he had dealt with such matters. The deposition, obtained by the Mobile Register from court records, was reported Monday.

Lipscomb has not commented publicly on how many allegations of sex abuse by church officials in the archdiocese he has received. Messages left by a Register reporter for comment on the testimony went unreturned.

In recent months, Lipscomb has dismissed two priests for allegations of sexual abuse dating as far back as the 1970s. He said he did not learn of the abuse until the late 1990s.

A third church official, a teacher at a local Catholic high school run by the diocese, has been charged with sexual abuse. Lipscomb said he dismissed the non-clerical brother in 1998.

The Register reported that Lipscomb testified in the 1995 deposition for a lawsuit alleging abuse by the late Monsignor Cordell Lang, a guidance couselor at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School.

Timothy Bolden, a former student, sued Lang and the church, claiming he was molested between 1988 and 1991. A jury ruled against Bolden.

The affidavit wasn't the first time Lipscomb had addressed the issue of abuse: In 1993, he said he wouldn't comment on whether child molestation was an issue locally because it would risk confidentiality.

Allegations of abuse in the diocese have been aired this year after Lipscomb revealed that the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock had admitted in 1998 to sexually abusing a boy. The former Mobile priest is under investigation.

Since then, more allegations have been made public.

Former McGill-Toolen Catholic High School teacher Nicholas Paul Bendillo, now affiliated with the New Orleans province of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, has been charged with two felony and two misdemeanor charges of sex abuse.

Bendillo was known as "Brother Vic" to those who knew him at the Mobile school, where he worked from 1959 to 1998 as a teacher and adviser.

Besides Bendillo and Sherlock, District Attorney John Tyson Jr. has said he has started criminal investigations into three other clergy members with ties to the archdiocese.

In the deposition from 1995, Lipscomb addressed the broader issues of sex abuse under questioning from Archie Lamb, a Birmingham lawyer representing Bolden.

Lamb estimated that the abuse would have started around 1987 or 1988 and he asked Lipscomb if there were complaints of sex abuse by Catholic officials before then. Lipscomb said yes and that after investigating them, he determined the allegations were valid.

When Lipscomb was asked if he had received such complaints after 1987, he said he couldn't recall exact dates. Later, Lipscomb said he could probably count on one hand the number of times he dealt with clergy sex abuse.

Lamb asked the archbishop if he was aware of any complaints besides Bolden's of sexual abuse of children at McGill-Toolen by church officials.

"Yes, we have from time to time had these complaints made," Lipscomb replied. Some of those complaints had been valid, he said.

But when Lamb asked for the exact number of complaints that had been deemed legitimate, Grey Redditt, the archbishop's lawyer, objected to the question.

Certain professionals must report allegations of child abuse to law enforcement officials, but clergy are currently not included in that group.

A bill making its way through the Legislature would change that, with some exceptions.

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