Catholic lay group to decide Juneau priest's fate

Former parishioner has accused the Rev. Michael Nash of molestation

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

An advisory board for the Catholic church will meet tonight to discuss sexual abuse allegations against a local priest and his future with the church, Juneau Diocese officials said.

The Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People of the Diocese of Juneau, a lay committee set up to investigate sexual abuse allegations within the church, will look at accusations leveled in November against the Rev. Michael Nash of downtown's Cathedral of the Nativity.

Nash, who voluntarily stepped aside from his position at the cathedral when allegations surfaced, is accused of molesting former parishioner Joel Post in the early 1980s. Post alleged he was abused by Nash from age 11 to 15 while on church youth group trips with the priest, according to a letter Post wrote to Bishop Michael Warfel, head of the diocese.

Nash and his attorney, Louis Menendez, have maintained the allegations are false. No criminal charges have been filed. Police and Warfel declined comment on whether any other allegations have been made.

After discussing the allegations, the church review board will recommend to the diocese whether Nash should remain a priest or be defrocked, said Warfel. He did not know when the group would make its recommendation.

"The meeting is confidential, although it's not a big secret we're having one - I thought it was," Warfel said. "Obviously, when the group reaches its decision we will make a statement. I don't know how you would not issue a resolution to such allegations. ... People need to know how it's resolved."

Menendez and canonical attorney Thomas Brundage of Milwaukee, Wis., will represent Nash at the meeting tonight. Menendez and Warfel declined comment on details of tonight's agenda. Brundage was en route to Juneau and could not be reached for comment. Post also could not be reached for comment.

Warfel said if the group finds no evidence to support the allegations, Nash may be moved to another diocese because, "a lot of harm has already been done here, even if he is cleared of all accusations."

If the group finds enough evidence to recommend Nash be defrocked, the recommendation will go to the Vatican, which makes the final decision, Warfel said. Nash also could choose to leave the priesthood on his own, Warfel said.

"I'm sure we'll have to give some indication of 'why' if the group finds the accusations are credible, but I don't think people would benefit from hearing all the particulars," Warfel said. "They won't get a verbatim account. I don't think anyone would read a verbatim account."

If police produce evidence to substantiate Post's claims, Nash can't face state criminal charges. State prosecutors said the alleged crime falls outside the statute of limitations.

Former District Attorney Sue McLean said when a crime is committed and not reported for several years, the law at the time the alleged crime was committed is the law used by prosecutors.

The last year of the alleged abuse, according to Post, was 1982. That year, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of a minor from that year extended out about five years, said District Attorney Rick Svobodny. Since then the limitation has been lengthened to about 10 years for sexual abuse cases, Svobodny said.

Melanie Plenda can be reached

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