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Diocese Sued In Sex Allegations

Woman says priest abused her when she was a child in Terre Haute in the 1970s

Jul 29, 2003

An Indiana Roman Catholic priest has until today to respond to a woman's lawsuit the third of its kind involving the Indianapolis Archdiocese within the past year alleging he repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was a child.

California resident Gretchen Mayerhofer says she was sexually abused in the 1970s by the Rev. Germain Belen when he was the pastor of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Terre Haute a parish that is part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The archdiocese is among the four defendants listed in the lawsuit stemming from the Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis.

Besides Belen and the archdiocese, the other defendants are the Franciscan Order province to which Belen belongs the Province of Our Lady of Consolation and the head of the province, the Rev. Peter Damian Massengill.

While Belen has yet to respond to the lawsuit, the other three defendants have filed briefs in Marion Superior Court 11. Their responses either deny Mayerhofer's allegations or argue the defendant is "without sufficient information or belief to admit or deny the allegations."

In her lawsuit, filed in April, Mayerhofer says Belen sexually molested and raped her in several locations, including in St. Benedict Church and the rectory, between the ages of 5 and 10.

The lawsuit, which seeks compensation for physical and emotional damages, states that Mayerhofer "has begun to understand that many of her problems she's had with her life and continues to have" were caused by Belen's alleged actions.

The lawsuit also contends that the archdiocese and the Franciscan province should have known of the abuse and addressed it.

The plaintiff has declined to talk about her lawsuit at this time.

The archdiocese would not discuss the case either, because it is in litigation, said spokeswoman Susan Borcherts.

"Father Germain can't comment on his case," said Brother Robert Baxter, a spokesman for the Province of Our Lady of Consolation.

Baxter said the priest, now 82, lives in the infirmary of the Franciscan friary in Mount St. Francis, a southern Indiana community near New Albany.

"He retired in 2001 when he had a stroke," Baxter says. "He's also on dialysis because of his kidneys."

Belen served as pastor of St. Benedict Catholic Church from September 1968 to February 1976, Baxter said.

His only other Indiana assignment was for a brief period after his ordination on June 3, 1950. Baxter said Belen was assigned to St. Anthony Catholic Church in the northeastern Indiana community of Angola before being sent in September 1950 to a parish in Louisville.

Two other lawsuits have been filed against the Indianapolis Archdiocese in the past year:

In an August 2002 lawsuit, a New Albany woman accuses the Rev. John Schoettelkotte of sexually abusing her more than 30 years ago. Schoettelkotte resigned from active ministry in February, according to the archdiocese.

A lawsuit was filed in September accusing the late Rev. Albert Deery of sexually abusing schoolgirls during the 1950s and 1960s.

Church officials say the archdiocese has paid about $34,000 in the past year to provide counseling and treatment for people who say they were sexually abused by archdiocese employees.

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