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Church officials respond to abuse allegations

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Catholic church officials say they have no past reports of misconduct by a priest accused in a lawsuit last week of molesting four altar boys in rural Alaska during the 1970s.

The four men, whose names are not made public in the suit, say the Rev. Jules Convert sexually abused them when he was serving as priest at the Church of the Nativity in the Yukon River village of St. Marys. They filed suit last week in Bethel.

Convert is now dead, but the suit seeks damages of more than $50,000 for each man from the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks and the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which provided Jesuit priests to the diocese.

The Oregon Province had no initial response to the lawsuit, but issued a written statement this week.

''No allegations of misbehavior by Convert were ever reported to his religious superiors,'' the statement said. ''When the Society of Jesus first heard reports of abuse from St. Marys, offers of assistance and counseling were extended. However, those offers of help were turned down.''

The Rev. Brad Reynolds, a spokesman for the Jesuits, said he believes the St. Marys incidents were reported to the church in July.

Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney representing the four men, said the offer of counseling was made two weeks ago.

''I don't know what assistance they're referring to,'' Roosa said. ''They certainly offered counseling, but the only facilities they have in St. Marys is the Catholic Church. If you've been molested by a priest, would you be happy with an offer to send a priest in to talk to you?''

Roosa said there have been some settlement negotiations with church officials, but said he could not discuss details of the talks.

The Society of Jesus said it takes allegations of sexual abuse seriously.

''We are committed to making every possible effort to prevent the occurrence of any sexual misconduct or abuse by its members,'' the statement said. ''We are hopeful that this case can be resolved in a manner that will bring healing to all parties involved.''

The Rev. Richard Case, chancellor of the Diocese of Fairbanks, said Tuesday he had just returned to town and was not prepared to comment on the lawsuit.

According to the statement from the Jesuits, Convert was born in France in 1910 and ordained in 1940. He was one of several French priests who asked and received permission to work in Alaska.

He served in Alaska from 1942 until 1988. At age 78, he returned to France, where he died in 1995, according to the statement.

A Fairbanks Diocese Web page mentions Convert having served in the rural Alaska villages of St. Marys, Kaltag, Stebbins and St. Michael.

The lawsuit alleges that Convert sexually touched the altar boys in separate incidents during overnight stays at his house, when they were between the ages of 6 and 15. They allege the abuse occurred between 1972 and 1977.



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