Former St. Marys altar boys suing Catholic church

Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Four men who served as altar boys at the Catholic church in St. Marys in the 1970s are suing church authorities, saying they were molested by a now-dead priest.

The men, who were identified only as John Doe 1 through 4 in public documents filed Wednesday in Bethel, describe being fondled by the Rev. Jules Convert, during separate overnight stays at his house.

The four are suing the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks and the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which provided Jesuit priests to the diocese.

A secretary in the Fairbanks diocese said church authorities were out of state attending a national conference Friday and not available to respond to questions about the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Province said that organization had not seen the complaint and would not have a comment until Monday.

Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa is representing the four men. He said that at various times during the 1970s the men served as altar boys at the Church of the Nativity in St. Marys, a Yukon River village about 100 miles northwest of Bethel.

''These men were psychologically injured as children, and they still don't know they extent of their injuries,'' Roosa said.

Each man reports having been asked to spend the night with Convert, and during the night, awaking to discover he was being touched sexually by the priest.

The men said the incidents happened between 1972 and 1977. Their ages at the time they said they were abused ranged from 6 to 15.

The lawsuit accuses church authorities of negligence in their hiring, placement, supervision and management of the priest.

According to the lawsuit, the men also believe Convert sexually abused other children and the church covered that up, partly by moving him from one parish to another.

Roosa said the men have no documentation of that, but will demand access to church personnel records and other documents through the lawsuit.

''What we know about Father Convert is that he was trained in France, and for reasons that we do not know, was transferred to Alaska,'' Roosa said. ''We're suspicious of those reasons, but we have no evidence as of yet as to why he was transferred.''

Convert served as a priest at various Yukon River villages from the mid-1950s through at least 1980, Roosa said. He believes Convert died during the 1980s.

Roosa said after hearing about lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests in Boston, one of the men from St. Marys contacted him, thinking he might be able to receive compensation for what had happened to him.

The man thought he was the only one who had been molested, Roosa said, but later talked to others who had been altar boys during that time, who told similar stories.

The lawsuit says the men suffered severe emotional distress and mental anguish, including loss of faith in God and the Catholic Church, fear of priests, loss of social interaction with others in the community and loss of access to the sacraments of the church.

Each man seeks more than $50,000 in damages.



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