Suit claims sexual abuse at St. Bartholomew's in 1970s
The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon faces a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a youth pastor at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Beaverton while the victim was in his teens in the 1970s.
The Portland firm of Vogt & Long filed suit on behalf of James Sullivan, now 55 and living in Texas. The lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court names the diocese and church as defendants and seeks $3 million in pain-and-suffering damages and $100,000 in economic damages, including treatment costs.
The suit names the youth pastor as William Wetzel, who died May 17, 2016, in Portland at age 76.
The sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred in the 1970s, when Sullivan was in his "middle teenage years" and attended Sunday school, participated in athletics and was an altar boy and acolyte at St. Bartholomew's.
"Wetzel used the grooming process and his authorized contact with plaintiff (Sullivan) to accomplish an act of sexual abuse," the lawsuit says.
"Defendants St. Bartholomew's and Diocese created a special relationship with plaintiff by allowing plaintiff to form a confidential and trust relationship with its agent, Wetzel."
The lawsuit says Sullivan's mother informed the Rev. Lincoln Eng of Wetzel's conduct, but Eng, executive director of the church, took no immediate action such as informing police, investigating Wetzel's conduct or disciplining or dismissing him. Wetzel was later transferred to Ohio, where the lawsuit alleges that he continued his abuse of boys.
Eng died in 2012 at age 90.
The Episcopal Diocese, in a statement released by communications director Heidi Pitts, said it is "deeply grieved" by the allegations in the lawsuit.
The statement continues:
"Given that the alleged abuser and a priest to whom the abuse was allegedly reported are both deceased, and that we have not had any direct communication with Mr. Sullivan, the Diocese is not in a position to comment on the facts.
"As demonstrated by our current practices, which require training, background checks, and adherence to professional child-care standards for all church clergy, employees, and volunteers, we take the safety of children and vulnerable people very seriously.
"We will cooperate to the fullest of our ability in uncovering the truth of Mr. Sullivan's allegations and seeking justice and healing for any victim of abuse."
Under Oregon law, if sexual abuse occurs to someone under age 18, that person must either initiate a lawsuit by age 40, or five years after the discovery of a causal connection between an injury and the prior sexual abuse.
The Portland firm of Randall Vogt and Barbara Long has represented plaintiffs in similar previous lawsuits.