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Portland Archdiocese Faces 4 Suits

The lawsuits accuse three priests and a nun of child sexual abuse and seek a combined $15 million

May 28, 2004 | The Oregonian Four new lawsuits accuse three Roman Catholic priests and a nun of sexually abusing children.

The suits, which seek a total of more than $15 million, name Gregory Sullivan, John Larkin, Theresa Joseph and Thomas Laughlin.

Sullivan was a priest in the Portland Archdiocese from 1979 to 1984, according to Bud Bunce, a church spokesman.

Larkin was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1931. He died in 1995, Bunce said.

Joseph also was known as Dolores Price, according to the lawsuit. Bunce said he did not know who she was.

Laughlin was ordained in 1948. He worked in various capacities as a priest and a teacher in Portland and Corvallis until he was convicted of molesting two boys in 1983. Laughlin, who spent about six months in jail, later resigned from the church, according to Bunce. More than 20 people have accused him of molesting them between 1960 and the early 1980s.

Bunce said church officials are not aware of any other allegations against Sullivan, Larkin or Joseph.

In a prepared statement, Bunce quoted from a letter sent by Archbishop John G. Vlazny to Catholics in the Portland Archdiocese:

"I assure you once more of my commitment: to promote healing and reconciliation with victims of child sexual abuse; to effectively respond to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Archdiocesan personnel; to ensure compliance with the procedures we bishops adopted in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People; and to protect the faithful in the future."

In the first suit, a plaintiff using the initials M.M. alleged that Laughlin fondled him once a month from 1960 to 1961. The plaintiff was 14 when the abuse started. It occurred "during confession in a highly ritualistic and methodical manner," according to Clark's news release.

A plaintiff using the initials F.M. claimed that Sister Theresa Joseph engaged in "serious and severe sexual conduct" with him on 15 to 25 occasions at St. Rose School now known as Archbishop Howard during the 1972-73 school year. The abuse began when the plaintiff was a 6-year-old first-grader and occurred during recess.

A plaintiff using the initials H.S. accused Sullivan of abusing him once in 1981 at St. Peter's church in Portland.

A plaintiff using the initials D.M. accused Larkin of fondling him once at St. Luke's in Woodburn when he was 12.

At least 200 people have claimed they were sexually abused by priests, nuns and other church and lay officials in the Portland Archdiocese, which covers Western Oregon. The abuse allegedly occurred from the late 1930s to the 1980s, although most of the accusations have occurred in the past five years. More than 40 priests have been named. The Archdiocese announced in February that it had spent more than $53 million in settlements. Only one other diocese in the country is known to have spent more.

More than 50 cases against the archdiocese remain unresolved.

In addition, many of the suits also named religious orders to which some of the named and unnamed priests belonged. None of the various orders have revealed their settlement amounts.

The Baker Diocese, which covers the parts of Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains, recently settled with 18 men who claimed they were molested. A handful of cases against the Baker diocese remains unresolved.

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