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Prosecutor Says Church Abuse Victims Numerous

Apr 27, 2003 | AP

A criminal investigation of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile has generated calls from more victims and friends of victims, a Mobile County prosecutor said.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Giardini said it's too early to say exactly how many victims there are in the area because the tips will need to be compiled. Not every case of alleged abuse will result in prosecution, he said.

Under Alabama law, sex crimes that involved victims under 16 and occurred before Jan. 7, 1985, cannot be prosecuted.

"We're looking at those hard, too. Even if they're not necessarily charged in those cases, we're trying to get a full picture of what went on," Giardini told the Mobile Register for a story Sunday.

Authorities on Thursday arrested former teacher Nicholas Paul Bendillo, who is affiliated with the New Orleans province of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, on two felony and two misdemeanor charges of sex abuse. Bendillo was known as "Brother Vic" to those who knew him at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, where he worked from 1959 to 1998 as a teacher and adviser.

The investigation began last month after Mobile Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb revealed that the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock, a longtime Mobile priest, had admitted to sexually abusing three minors. Sherlock has not been available for comment.

Lipscomb has further identified the alleged victims as teenagers, and has said he believes the abuse occurred during the 1970s. Sherlock resigned from the priesthood effective Feb. 28, one day before a new church policy would have forced Lipscomb to remove him.

Besides Bendillo and Sherlock, District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said he has started criminal investigations into three other clergy members with ties to the archdiocese: the Rev. Arthur C. Schrenger, the Rev. Barry Ryan and the Rev. Eugene Smith. Each of them could not be located for comment.

Tyson had previously disclosed receiving files about all five, and none is active in the archdiocese.

The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the archdiocese, which covers an area from Montgomery to Mobile, said he wasn't surprised that the investigation was broader than the initial group of clergy whose files were turned over in response to a subpoena.

"I'm assuming they're investigating any call that they get in," he said.

Though the exact scope of abuse in the Mobile area is unknown, average numbers can be derived from research conducted of clergy who are in treatment for sex abuse, said Thomas G. Plante, a licensed psychologist and author who teaches psychology at Santa Clara University in California.

That research indicates that the average clergy abuser has eight victims and a total of 32 instances of abuse, Plante told the Register. Most priests don't start abusing until after ordination, he said, and they generally don't stop until they are caught or are cut off from potential victims.

Tyson said information from cases that can't be prosecuted may be relevant to others that can. Accounts that predate 1985 may help prosecutors determine the patterns and practices of an alleged perpetrator, he said.

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