Clergy Crimes

April -
August 1997

M – W

  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin



    PORTLAND — The state Supreme Court ruled that it had no mandate to decide whether a bishop neglected to supervise a priest accused of having an affair, citing the church's right to practice religion without governmental interference.

    The ruling blocked a lawsuit against Bishop Joseph Gerry and the Portland Diocese by Albert and Ruth Swanson. They claim that when in 1990 they sought counseling from their pastor, Fr. Maurice Morin, he initiated a sexual relationship with Mrs. Swanson that nearly destroyed their marriage and caused their adult son to commit suicide.

    Their suit against Morin, currently serving as chaplain at two convents, is still pending. (4/27)



    JACKSON COUNTY — Jeffrey Knapp, 47, a registered nurse who presented himself as a master spiritual healer, has been charged with molesting an 11-year-old boy under the guise of spiritual healing. He allegedly coerced the boy into fondling him during a class in "reiki," an Asian healing technique, at his home. It was revealed that in 1977 he was convicted of molesting an 11-year-old and sentenced to 5 years probation and in 1986 had lost a job as a principal after parents complained about sexual conversations he was having with students. (8/8)



    EMBARRASS — The former pastor of the Embarrass-Pike Evangelical Lutheran Church has been charged with several counts of sexually assaulting a male youth. Rev. James Eric Holmgren, 46, resigned as pastor last month. The criminal complaint said the assaults against the boy, now 25, occurred at the church, the pastor's home and in a car. (7/16)

    MINNEAPOLIS — A ruling against Fr. Robert Kapoun for molesting a minor was reversed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals because the victim came forward too late.

    Dale Scheffler, 29, had won an award of $1 million in damages in the lawsuit. He said that Kapoun, known as the "Polka Padre," abused him in 1981 when he was 14 years old. The Appeals Court ruling said that Scheffler remembered the incidents and told his mother something strange had had happened when he stayed overnight at Kapoun's cabin.

    The court said a reasonable person in that situation should have known of the sexual abuse within 6 years, the time allowed by law. In previous court rulings, recognition and damage were considered separate.

    Jeffrey Anderson, Scheffler's attorney, said he was outraged by the ruling and will ask the state Supreme Court to review the case. "It protects the child molester at the expense of innocent victims," he said. "It's a real setback for victims."

    To add insult to injury, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has filed to collect $4,937 and Kapoun $1,081 in legal expenses from Scheffler, even though they don't expect to collect, said the archdiocesan attorney.

    Scheffler and others protested outside the Cathedral of St. Paul during Mass. "The perpetrator walks away free and clear while I get punished for reporting a crime and trying to protect other kids," he said in a statement later. "It really hurts to see the church I grew up in acting so vengefully."

    An archdiocesan spokesman said the archdiocese has paid for therapy for Scheffler. "We are most interested in making him as whole as he can be," he said. (6/10)



    NORTHVALE — Two brothers, now in their 30s and 40s, are suing Fr. Michael Campanalonga for allegedly sexually assaulting and abusing them when they were children. They also accuse the parish and the Archdiocese of Newark for failing to protect children from a priest they knew was a pedophile.

    Campanalonga was permanently suspended in 1993 after refusing to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after allegations of sexual misconduct were made. Michael Corsie and his younger brother Thomas sent a letter to the archbishop detailing the molestation of them and a third brother, saying that Campanalonga plied them with liquor, and that sodomy, fellatio and other sex acts took place on many occasions at places including the priest's mother's home, the rectory, and in motels during a cross-country trip they took in 1968.

    Campanalonga is believed to be living in Florida but has not responded to the lawsuit. (8/12)

    TRENTON — The state Supreme Court said that the trusting relationship a person has with a religious leader has legal weight and a clergy member can be sued for sexual misdeeds that abuse that trust. However, the court stopped short of opening doors for lawsuits against clergy specifically for malpractice, like doctors and therapists. It concluded that a mal- practice rule for clergy would violate the First Amendment.

    The case involved Episcopal priest Fr. Alex MacDonell, who had counseled a female parishioner who claimed that in 1992-3, MacDonell, who was married, engaged her in sexually intimate behavior, but not intercourse, when she visited. She alleges the distress led to a suicide attempt and required psychiatric hospitalization.

    After MacDonnell left the church, she confided in his successor, Fr. Fletcher Harper, about their affair. She said Harper violated her confidence, telling the congregation about the affair during a sermon and in a church newsletter.

    After a dismissal of the suit and a reversal on appeal, the Supreme Court struck a middle ground, permitting the lawsuit on breach-of-trust points only. Lawyers on both sides claimed victory. (7/23)

    CLIFTON — Fr. Peter McBride, 61, who pleaded guilty in February to fondling the breasts of two women in 1991 and 1992, was ordered to receive a minimum of two years counseling and pay a $250 fine.

    During the trial, when the prosecutor said that the women had lost their faith as a result of the incidents, several among the dozens of parishioners who had come to support McBride snickered and were nearly thrown out of court.

    Charges that McBride had molested a 14-year-old girl were dismissed when the judge ruled that the priest had been denied his right to a lawyer and that his statements were coerced. McBride, who had denied the charges, still faces a civil suit filed by the girl. (4/18)

    DENVILLE — A parochial high school principal has been charge with the theft of thousands of dollars from the school. Fr. Dominic Scolamiero, 55, had been principal for 14 until he left in 1993. A spokesman for the diocese would not say whether he was fired or left voluntarily. The indictment said that Scolamiero stole more than $75,000 in tuition and a similar amount in donations and also stole $500 from school vending machines. (4/18)



    TIERRA AMARILLA — The Chama First Baptist Church has been sued by a man who claims the church should have stopped the pastor, Rev. Louis Day, from wrecking his marriage. Eileen Dement began counseling soon after he became pastor in 1993, but she testified that she never considered him a psychological counselor, and began an affair which included lovemaking sessions in the church. She left her former husband for Day, whom she married in 1996, and has a 7-month old son by him.

    She testified it would have taken "an act of God" to save her marriage to the plaintiff, Richard Hurd. He testified that Day told him to try to add some romance to their marriage. (8/29)



    BRONXVILLE — The future ministry of Fr. Francis Stinner, 56, has yet to be decided after the archdiocese received a report of a private investigation firm looking into allegations of sexual misconduct in the 1970s.

    This is the first time the archdiocese has employed a private investigation firm in sexual allegations against a priest, and such a procedure will be used in future cases, according to an archdiocesan spokesman. The reports will be kept confidential but will be revealed to all parties involved.

    Stinner was removed after old allegations of sexual abuse of boys resurfaced and it was revealed that the archdiocese had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a man who said the priest had abused him years ago. Last year the archdiocese agreed to pay the man for his college tuition, a $23,000 car and psychological therapy. The payments were made in a spirit of charity and compassion, diocesan officials said, and did not reflect a judgement as to the validity of his claims. The man had asked for $300,000 after meeting with Cardinal O'Connor and producing letters he said were written by men who also claimed to have been abused by Stinner in the 1970s. (7/17)

    NIAGARA — Fr. James Kneale, 42, was arrested on charges he molested a teenaged boy over a period of several years in the 1980s. He was charged with five counts of sexual assault. Out on bail, he has been placed on administrative leave by the diocese.

    Kneale was in the news recently when he and a second priest at the rectory wrestled with a man trying to break in.

    Another Niagara priest, Fr. Joseph Bonomi, was charged in 1993 on sex-related offenses involving a young girl dating back to the 1970s. That case has not yet gone to trial. (7/16)

    GREECE — Fr. William Lum, 54, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual abuse of a 16-year-old boy in 1992. He was given a conditional discharge instead of imprisonment or probation. He must stay away from the victim and children under 17 unless he has their parents' permission. He must also continue counseling or face 3 months in jail.

    The judge rejected a request by the victim to be allowed to speak at the sentencing, citing a full docket, which angered the victim and his attorney. (No date)

    NEW YORK CITY — Two Orthodox rabbis and 10 others laundered drug profits through a yeshiva and synagogue, federal prosecutors said. Rabbis Mahir Reiss, 47, and Bernard Grunfeld, 67, are alleged to have conspired to launder $750,000 in profits from Columbian drug dealers through the synagogue's bank accounts according to a complaint signed by a DEA agent. They were later released on bond. (No date)



    ALLENTOWN — Msgr. Stephen Forish, 51, who was charged after he drove up to a 22-year-old man in the early hours on a Sunday and asked if he was interested in sex for money, and then asked if the man knew of any 15-year-olds who would be, has retired. He served as anti-abortion coordinator for 20 years. He still faces 3 prostitution-related charges, but the court has been unable to locate the man and related witnesses. (6/1)



    SINTON — Sexual assault charges were dismissed against a priest accused of sodomizing an altar boy after prosecutors said they could not corroborate the accuser's story. Fr. Jesus Garcia, 39, still faces a civil lawsuit brought by the alleged victim and 4 other men. He is accused of slipping drugs into a glass of milk he gave to a 15-year-old boy at a rectory in Mathis, Texas, and then sodomizing him when the teen became unconscious.

    The prosecutor said he was forced to dismiss the charges because Garcia's accuser came forward two years later and there was no other evidence. Under state law, prosecutors can only use the uncorroborated testimony of sex crime victims 18 (originally 14) and older only if they came forward within 6 months. He also said he would look into the possibility of a separate case based on allegations from another accuser.

    The plaintiffs' lawyer vowed a more vigorous pursuit of the civil suit, saying he was encouraged by the recent verdict in Dallas. (7/29)

    CORPUS CHRISTI — The controversial Bishop Rene Gracida, 74, has resigned and been succeeded by his coadjutor Bishop Roberto Gonzales, 47. Gracida resigned supposedly for health reasons. His episcopacy was marked by lawsuits over the control of the Kenedy Foundation, a wealthy charitable organization he controlled. Settlements were reached in March. (4/25)



    TACOMA — Six more men have filed lawsuits against TV's "Frugal Gourmet" for sexual abuse, bringing the total to ten plaintiffs so far. Rev. Jeff Smith, 58, ordained as a Methodist minister, served as a campus chaplain at the University of Puget Sound in the late 1960s. He gave up preaching for cooking in 1973 when he started a restaurant and catering business called the "Chaplain's Pantry." Located near a high school, he hired students to help him in the kitchen as part of the work study program.

    Eight of the plaintiffs are men who say Smith abused them as boys, with accusations ranging from fondling to rape. The other two plaintiffs are the parents of an alleged victim.

    The earliest incident is said to have happened in 1974 and the most recent in 1992. The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution has passed. The civil suits are scheduled for trial next January.

    Smith has kept quiet about the cases, but they have already put his burgeoning career in jeopardy. His newest cable TV cooking show has been suspended and talks with PBS about new episodes for his series are also on hold. His book publisher won't talk about him.

    Smith, who has two adult sons, is married but has not lived with his wife Patricia for more than 20 years. She is named in the suits as having known of her husband's activities and has retained her own lawyer. (6/17)



    MADISON — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison cannot be held liable for the actions of a hospital chaplain accused of using his role as a counselor to have sex with a woman, the state Supreme Court ruled.

    The woman contends the diocese was negligent in its supervision of Fr. J. Gibbs Clauder, who counseled her after she had a miscarriage in 1988 and later had a sexual relationship with her. She argued that the diocese knew or should have known that Clauder posed a danger to patients he counseled.

    She cited an incident when Clauder screamed when he was bitten by a woman. Another priest, hearing the scream, went into a rectory room where the chaplain was straddling the woman, holding down her hands. Her blouse was torn. The second priest removed the woman from the rectory and did not report the incident.

    On a 4-3 vote, the court ruled the Constitution bars claims against a church for negligent hiring or retention of employees. The court's majority said the chaplain and the woman had a consensual sexual relationship. Conservatives invoked the First Amendment in the decision, saying that it prohibits inquiry into "church law, policies, or practices." (5/28)

    LA CROSSE — Fr. Thomas Dempsey, 78, finally apologized to his victims in court, while pleading guilty to one count of engaging in indecent behavior during the 1960s with a young boy. Now retired, he wore his clerical collar in court but did not look at his accusers.

    Four other counts were dropped as part of the plea agreement. It also calls for him to perform 200 hours of community service, pay $100 a month — $6,000 total — for counseling the victims, undergo sexual offender assessment and any necessary treatment and have no incidental contact with minors.

    The case was unusual in that the six-year statute of limitations did not apply because Dempsey was transferred out-of-state to Boston in 1970 and never resided in Wisconsin after that. It also brings closure to a long struggle for the victims to get the priest to acknowledge his abuse. Lawsuits against Dempsey in 1994 and '95 on behalf of anonymous plaintiffs were dismissed by the state Supreme Court in June 1995 which ruled that the victims had not made their claims in a timely manner and that suing a church for the alleged actions of an individual cleric violates the First Amendment. (4/24)



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