AR--Child sex abuse case vs. priest settles

For immediate release: Saturday, Jan. 30

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected], [email protected])

A woman who says she was sexually abused as a child by an Arkansas priest has settled her child sex abuse and cover up suit. We applaud her and her family for their courage and beg Arkansas Catholic officials – especially Little Rock Bishop Anthony Taylor - to “come clean” about child molesting clerics. And we condemn the harsh words of a Subiaco Catholic official whose cruelty is rubbing even more salt into the deep wounds of this brave family.   

A lawsuit charged that Father Bede Mitchel repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was eight years old. He was a Benedictine priest from Subiaco Abbey who worked for four years in the Ft. Worth diocese where these crimes took place.

Subiaco Abbot Jerome Kodell claims nothing in Mitchel’s record indicates wrongdoing and claims to have done a fruitless “search for corroborating evidence of the sexual assault.”

 “The abbey did not want to settle. The insurance provider opted to settle,” Kodell said. “If this had gone to trial, Mitchel would have been found innocent.”

We are appalled by these mean-spirited remarks. Years ago, Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine quipped that “The devil made me do it.” It’s equally ludicrous that Kodell claims “the insurance company made us." Worse, it’s callous and disingenuous.

It’s callous because it heaps more pain on this brave victim. And it’s disingenuous because it contradicts the obvious fact that both the Ft. Worth Catholic officials AND the insurance company found this abuse report credible.

Donors and supporters of Subiaco Abbey should take note. If the Abbey head is telling the truth, it’s clear that he’s willing to tarnish the reputations of his colleagues and spend your donations to settle lawsuits he believes are meritless just because an insurance company staffer asks him to.

Fr. Mitchel worked in these Arkansas parishes: Sacred Heart Church in Charleston, St. Edward Church in Little Rock, St. Ignatius Church in Scranton, St. Peter and Paul Church in Morrison Bluff, St. Anthony Church in Ratcliff, Sacred Heart of Mary in Barling and Holy Redeemer Church in Clarksville.

Other proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesting clerics who spent time at Subiaco include Fr. Nicholas Fuhrmann (who faced at least two civil abuse suits), Fr. Timothy Sugrue (who was ordered to pay $1.5 million to a victim) and Fr. Francis A. Zimmerer (who faced at least three accusers).

Other Arkansas priests accused of sexual misdeeds include:

--Fr. James Melnick, who worked in Russellville, Dardanelle and Danville and who church officials admit committed “predatory” sexual misconduct with “several adults,” and

--Father Charles Kanu, who worked in Helena, Marianna, Mountain Home, Tontitown and Huntsville and who was accused in a civil suit of counseling, then attacking a woman.

There is at least one more publicly accused Arkansas priest who reportedly molested children. He is Fr. Vance Zebulon Thorne, who worked in Austin TX (1961-1971), Jackson MS (1980-1987), and Trenton NJ and faced at least three civil suits and two criminal indictments.

Arkansas Catholic officials should end their secrecy surrounding clergy sex abuse. They should explain why they kept this lawsuit a secret for months, despite repeated pledges to be “open and transparent” about child sex cases by clerics.

They should also “come clean” and disclose the names, photos, whereabouts and work histories of every single child molesting cleric who lives or works – or lived or worked – in the state, whether alive or deceased, diocesan or religious order, whether priests, nun or seminarian, and whether they are proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesters.

Again, we praise the courage of this victim and her loved ones. We hope her bravery will encourage others who are suffering in shame, secrecy and self-blame to step forward.

When abuse victims stay silent, nothing changes. When we find the strength to speak, at least there’s a chance one child will be spare the horror that we’ve endured.

(The victim is represented by attorney Tahira Khan Merritt at 214-537-3789).

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact - Bill Lindsey of Little Rock (501-993-7933, [email protected]) Arkansas Director of SNAP, David Clohessy 314-566-9790, [email protected], Barbara Dorris 314-503-0003, [email protected], Barbara Blaine 312-399-4747, [email protected]  

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