The details reveal plenty of everyday information about 14 accused priests but very little on sex abuse
Thursday, April 17, 2008

ASHBEL S. GREEN and STEVE WOODWARD

The Oregonian Staff

One priest flunked a class on dogma in seminary school.

Another retired early because of crippling back pain.

Yet another priest was notorious for not paying his bills on time.

The 2,000 internal documents released by the Archdiocese of Portland on Tuesday evening revealed thousands of details about 14 priests accused of molesting children in Oregon from the 1950s to the 1990s.

But most of the details have nothing to do with sexual abuse.

As a result, the documents shed little new light on a sex scandal that involved dozens of priests, forced the Portland Archdiocese into an unprecedented bankruptcy in 2004 and cost in excess of $100 million.

With some exceptions, what’s notable is what’s not in the documents.

Thomas Dulcich, a Portland attorney who represents the archdiocese, said thousands of pages of documents are already in the public record and have been thoroughly scoured.

"Maybe there isn’t much more to the story," Dulcich said.

One file on the Rev. Erasto Guzman Chavez contains several pages regarding sex-abuse allegations. The file contains about 10 letters from parishioners at St. Alexander Parish in Hillsboro accusing the priest of molesting preteen and teenage girls. The allegations included kissing, touching breasts and putting his hand up one girl’s blouse.

"It is very upsetting to me to know that there was knowledge of this type of activity four years ago," one letter writer said.

"We as a community need to call into question our own responsibility in what has happened since Erasto Guzman’s inappropriate behavior was first reported."

The most recent release also includes hundreds of pages about the Rev. Maurice Grammond, the most notorious pedophile priest in Oregon.

Attorneys for those who accused Grammond of sexual abuse say church officials knew about his behavior by the late 1950s, but the archdiocese says nothing showed up in his personnel file until 1992.

On Feb. 6, 1992, the Rev. Charles Lienert, an archdiocesan official, wrote a memo indicating that Grammond had no previous allegations of sex abuse, even in the secret archives.

On the same day, Lienert wrote a second memo summarizing a meeting in which Grammond appeared "unannounced in an agitated condition" because of the accusations. Grammond told Lienert that he couldn’t remember what happened 20 years previously and threatened to hire a lawyer.

"He said that Archbishop Dwyer had talked to him about this years ago, and that Archbishop Dwyer was a decent bishop," Lienert’s memo said. "He said that Fr. Jim Harris was accused of child abuse fifteen years ago and nothing has happened to him."

The recent release includes more than 100 pages on Harris. A few carefully worded letters about his visit to a California psychiatric clinic in 1972 hinted that he had been accused of sexual abuse.

Absent from the latest release are any new documents about Thomas Laughlin, a former priest who admitted sexually abusing dozens of boys in Oregon over several decades. Laughlin pleaded guilty in 1983 to molesting two boys and later was defrocked.

Dulcich said Laughlin, who is still alive, is the subject of a recent multimillion-dollar lawsuit, and his attorney asked the archdiocese not to release his personnel file.

Kelly Clark, a Portland attorney representing dozens of people who claim they were molested by priests, said there were thousands of pages of documents about Laughlin that have yet to be made public.

Dulcich said the process of releasing documents was ongoing.

"You wonder if there is some other agenda on the part of the people who continue to complain about the archdiocese as it continues to release thousands of documents," he said.

Ashbel S. (Tony) Green: 503-221-8202; tonygreen@news.oregonian.com