Ketchikan woman sues Juneau diocese for 80s sexual abuse

Woman seeks at least $100,000 in damages

Posted: Sunday, May 24, 2009

KETCHIKAN - A woman is suing the Catholic Diocese of Juneau, alleging sexual misconduct by a priest when she was a young student attending Holy Name Catholic School in Ketchikan in the mid-1980s.

The Ketchikan woman, referred to only as Jane Doe in the complaint, says former priest-in-residence Javier Gutierrez molested her by inappropriate touches and speech when she was in the fourth and fifth grades.

The woman seeks at least $100,000 in damages and a trial by jury.

Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, who represents the woman, said Gutierrez was accused of molesting other children in Ketchikan. Roosa said his client wishes to remain anonymous.

The lawsuit - filed May 11 in Ketchikan Superior Court - alleges the Juneau diocese continually covered up Gutierrez's actions and knew about Gutierrez's "perverted propensities."

After serving more than a year as a deacon for the Juneau diocese, Gutierrez was ordained as a priest in December 1983 from his Mexican hometown of La Barca, Jalisco. As a priest, he served in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Haines.

In January 1986, Gutierrez was accused of inappropriate behavior, including making "sexual innuendoes," toward five grade-school girls at the Holy Name Parish school in Ketchikan. It's not clear if the woman in the new case was among those involved in those accusations, Roosa said Saturday.

Gutierrez left Alaska soon after he was accused in 1988 of kissing a 16-year-old girl against her wishes at a Haines parish where he was reassigned.

Gutierrez, who admitted kissing the 16-year-old, began a six-month stay that year at the Servants of the Paraclete, the Jemez Springs, N.M., treatment center for troubled priests at the time.

Gutierrez began serving the following year at the diocese in Tijuana, Mexico, which assumed authority of the priest.

The Rev. Patrick Travers, vicar general for the Juneau diocese, said he did not know why authorities weren't notified in the 1980s. He said if a similar situation happened today, the church would contact police.

Travers said the diocese has not heard from Gutierrez since 2002 after he was stripped of his ministerial duties.

The Ketchikan Daily News was unable to find Gutierrez for comment.

The Juneau diocese, which covers the Panhandle, said a statement from Bishop Edward J. Burns would be read at all Masses over the weekend.

Burns said in the statement that his responsibilities include "reaching out to anyone who may have been wronged by a church worker, working with civil authorities in addressing such cases and assuring the faith and confidence in our Catholic community."

Travers said the church had not received a summons on the case and would not make any official statement regarding the lawsuit itself.

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