Alaska priest named in abuse lawsuit

Almost 300 abuse complaints filed in Fairbanks in 6 years

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009

FAIRBANKS - A 74-year-old priest serving the University of Alaska Fairbanks parish has been accused of sexually abusing a minor nearly two decades ago.

Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa filed the lawsuit on behalf of a woman who claimed the Rev. Gerald Ornowski sexually abused her as a young girl at least three times in the early 1990s when he was pastor in Stebbins.

Stebbins is on the northwest coast of St. Michael Island on Norton Sound in western Alaska. The community of 577 is 120 miles southeast of Nome.

Ornowski divided his time between Stebbins and another Bering Sea community between 1990 and 1994.

The lawsuit also names Ornowski's religious order, the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception of Stockbridge, Mass., as a defendant.

Diocese officials said Ornowski was in Massachusetts receiving medical attention.

The lawsuit was filed May 21 in Nome. It did not come to the Fairbanks diocese's attention until Tuesday.

Ornowski contacted Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler and the superior of his Massachusetts congregation, said Robert Hannon, diocesan chancellor. Kettler put Ornowski on administrative leave.

"We're all in a bit of shock at this moment, and our prayers are with everyone involved," Hannon said.

Hannon said the diocese followed its policy and contacted law enforcement and the diocese Child Protection Review Board.

Almost 300 complaints of sexual abuse of a minor have been filed in the Fairbanks diocese in the last half-dozen years. The lawsuit is the first that names Ornowski. Roosa said he expects other complaints to be filed.

"No other victims have come forward, but once the first person breaks the silence other victims come forward," Roosa said.

Ornowski became pastor of St. Mark's parish and the Catholic Center at UAF in 1997, replacing the Rev. Jim Kolb. Ornowski served as chaplain to students and faculty and maintained an office on campus and a small house just off campus. He was known to serve moose stew to members of the Catholic Student Association with meat he bagged himself.

The Fairbanks diocese was not named in the lawsuit. The diocese is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings and the Dec. 2 cutoff deadline for additional civil lawsuits has passed.



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