A batch of new clergy-abuse lawsuits filed Monday accuse five Oregon priests of molesting nine children from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Most of the abuse alleged in the suits occurred in Mount Angel at the abbey and a since-closed high school and in Elgin, a small Eastern Oregon community.
Joey Houser, 37, of Elgin, said Monday that the Rev. Jocelyn St. Arnaud molested him in the 1970s from when he was 12 until he finished high school.
Houser said he had “blacked out” the assaults until recently.
“I’ve lived a life of hell,” he said. “I’ve lost faith. Alcoholism. Drug addiction. It’s time to quit hiding.”
Houser’s older brother, who goes by Gary Schoenberger, also accused St. Arnaud of molesting him in a lawsuit filed Monday.
St. Arnaud is dead. Earlier this year, a man accused St. Arnaud of molesting him when St. Arnaud was stationed at Mount Angel Abbey and was called Father Pacome.
The group of cases filed Monday is the largest since summer and indicates that the flood of litigation in Oregon may not be subsiding.
In total, 130 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits since 1999 accusing more than 30 Catholic clergy in Oregon of molesting them from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Most of the priests are dead.
Monday’s lawsuits also accused three priests at Mount Angel Abbey of molesting six children from the 1960s to the 1970s.
The suits named the Rev. Emanuel Clark, who is deceased, and the Rev. Kenneth Jacques and the Rev. Louis Charvet, who were removed from public ministry last spring when allegations against them first surfaced.
One suit claimed that there was a pervasive atmosphere of sexual abuse at Mount Angel Abbey Seminary, a Catholic preparatory school that closed in the late 1970s.
“Sexual abuse was rampant at the abbey,” said Daniel J. Gatti, the Salem attorney who filed Monday’s lawsuits.
A spokesman for the Portland Archdiocese, which stretches from the Columbia River to the California border west of the Cascades, said he could not comment about the specifics of the suits because he had not seen them.
A spokeswoman for Mount Angel Abbey said she had not seen the suits, either.
“We need to see the new cases, but we’re obviously taking them very seriously and investigating them actively as we speak,” said Rita Kester, director of communications at Mount Angel Abbey.
No one was available to comment at the Baker Diocese, which covers Oregon east of Cascades.
The suits accused two priests who had not previously been named in litigation: Clark and the Rev. Aloysius A. O’Doherty, who was accused in one suit of molesting an 11-year-old girl in Portland in 1950.
Bud Bunce, a spokesman for the Portland Archdiocese, said O’Doherty was a visiting priest in Portland the early 1950s, working briefly in Medford in 1973. Bunce said he did not know his whereabouts.
The lawsuits were filed as attorneys for the Portland Archdiocese, various religious orders, insurance companies and plaintiffs are preparing to begin mass settlement negotiations in February.
Monday’s lawsuits seek more than $43 million. The lawsuits filed since December 1999, when the wave of priest litigation in Oregon began, seek more than $500 million.
The Portland Archdiocese has settled with more than 30 plaintiffs since 1999 for an undisclosed sum. As part of a settlement in 2000, the archdiocese adopted a new policy to deal with priest abuse allegations.
“We believe that the child abuse policy of the Archdiocese of Portland is a very clear statement of the importance of protecting children in our parishes and schools and of our commitment to this effort,” Bunce said, rejecting a claim by Gatti that church officials still didn’t “get it.”
“We also point out that archdiocesan policy actually goes beyond the law of Oregon regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse to state authorities.” Bunce added.
Houser said he had converted to Catholicism under St. Arnaud’s tutelage, although he has since drifted from the church. He said he felt terrible when the abuse was occurring but did not feel he could tell anyone.
“If I would have come forward, no one would have believed me,” he said.