New lawsuits claim that two children were sexually abused by Catholic priests about 40 years ago and that the Roman Catholic diocese of Phoenix covered up the abuse
JACQUES BILLEAUD Associated Press
February 13, 2020 at 3:17 pm
3 min reading
Two children were sexually abused by Catholic priests about 40 years ago in an Arizona parish and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix covered up the problem, according to new lawsuits.
Both lawsuits were filed on Monday under a 2019 state law that extends the right of people who say they were abused as children to sue until their 30th birthday – a decade more than before.
The law also opened a single window for people who missed the cutoff point. They now have until the end of this year to file a lawsuit.
Robert Pastor, one of the lawyers who filed the new lawsuits, said the law will help hold the church accountable.
"We are able to discover the pattern and practice of transferring (sexually abusive) priests," he said.
In one lawsuit, a man claimed to have been sexually abused by the then Rev. Joseph Henn at St. Mark's Roman Catholic Parish in Phoenix in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In addition to the civil claim, Henn faces child sexual abuse and other sexual charges. Authorities say Henn, who was arrested, fled Arizona for Italy in 2003 after being charged with the crimes. He returned to Arizona last year.
The other lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims the Revs. Donald R. Verhagen and James Bretl sexually abused her in the same parish at the same time. Verhagen died in 2001 and Bretl died in 2010.
The priests of both processes were affiliated with the Society of the Province of the Divine Savior of the USA, a religious order based in Milwaukee, also known as Salvatorians, according to the process.
The Phoenix diocese declined to comment on specific allegations in both cases, although it said in a statement that no previous allegations against Verhagen and Bretl had been brought to its attention.
The diocese said it was "discouraged by any allegations of abuse of the clergy, and remains with all those who suffer and suffer because of the abuse caused by the clergy".
"The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin, and we continue to pray for the healing of survivors and their families, and to work for truth and justice."
The Society of the Divine Savior Province of the USA did not return calls seeking comment on the lawsuits.
Brittany Lamb, a lawyer representing Henn in her criminal case, did not immediately return a call on Wednesday seeking comment on behalf of her client.
The lawsuit claimed that the church failed to report the suspected abuse to the police and that the three priests were part of a pattern of covering up abuse by transferring priests who were involved in sexual abuse. He also claimed that the two victims were physically and emotionally harmed as a result of the abuse.
The lawsuits did not specify the amount of damages requested. The two people who filed the lawsuits were identified in court documents by pseudonyms.
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