JPD seeks help in inquiry into sex-abuse claims against priest

Rev. Nash receives flood of support from Catholic congregations

Posted: Friday, December 06, 2002

The Juneau Police Department on Thursday appealed for the public's help with the investigation of sexual abuse allegations against a local Catholic priest.

"This is not us out trying to get Mr. Nash," police investigator Kris Sell said in reference to the Rev. Michael Nash. "But in order to get to the truth, whatever that is, we will need the public's help."

Sell's written statement to the Empire said police, while presuming Nash is innocent, are asking others with information to come forward. Police Capt. Tom Porter said a priest has access to many people across the state. Going to the public to ask for information, Porter said, was the department's only way to reach a wider pool of people.

Sell declined to say whether police have received any other allegations against Nash, who has denied any wrongdoing and who has received an outpouring of support from many of his parishioners.

The police investigation is in response to allegations by former parishioner Joel Post, who last month submitted to Juneau Bishop Michael Warfel a written statement detailing the alleged sexual abuse.

Post alleges the abuse took place in the early 1980s from the time he was 11 until he was 15. He said the alleged assaults took place in remote parts of Southeast Alaska.

Nash was a deacon in Southeast Alaska in the late 1970s, became a priest in 1980 and most recently served as pastor for Juneau's Cathedral of the Nativity. He voluntarily stepped down from his position pending the outcome of the investigation.

Bishop Warfel said after the allegations against Nash became public, he received a call from "an individual" with information regarding the allegations, but no new accusations. He declined to discuss the nature of the information.

He said he is conducting his own canonical investigation, a process to determine whether church laws were broken. He said his investigation includes speaking with current and past parishioners.

The Rev. Patrick Travers, canonical attorney for the diocese, said the diocese is in favor of asking the public for assistance and welcomes any information people can provide.

Sell said she may request Nash's personnel file. So far, police have not asked for the file and the diocese has not offered it, Sell said.

In an interview with the Empire in July, Warfel said diocese officials had reviewed the personnel files of all priests in the Juneau diocese, which stretches from Metlakatla to Yakutat. He said the review showed two allegations against priests: An accusation against a visiting priest in the mid-1980s and one against Javier Gutierrez, a former Juneau priest who was defrocked in July when allegations of his sexual misconduct in the 1980s were reviewed.

Warfel said at the time the diocese files did not contain other allegations.

In a November interview with the Empire, Warfel said notes made by the late Bishop Michael Kenny in Nash's personnel file contained an expression of "concern" from a family in Petersburg around 1990. Warfel said the file did not state the nature of the concern.

Shortly after the concern was lodged, Warfel said, the file shows Nash was sent to Jemez Springs, N.M. He was lodged at Villa Louis Martina, Warfel said, a facility run by the holy order the Servants of the Paraclete.

At the time Nash was sent to Jemez Springs, the facility was a treatment center providing intensive individual and group therapy sessions, said the Rev. Peter Lechner, Paraclete servant general. Priests sent to the program could be treated for a variety of ailments including "depression, anxiety, burn-out and difficulties maintaining priestly celibacy," Lechner said.

Warfel said Nash "most likely" was sent to Jemez Springs because of the "concern" lodged by a family. According to Bishop Kenny's notes, Warfel said, Nash was "sent away for treatment - but not for molesting young people."

Asked to explain his earlier assurance that no other allegations existed in diocese personnel records, Warfel said, "I have no answer for that."

"This is a very sensitive subject and I guess I was trying to be guarded in what I said," Warfel said.

The diocese lay committee, the Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, met Tuesday night at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting to discuss the recent allegations.

The 11-member board, whose names were not released, is composed of Catholics who are not employed by the church. The board's creation was mandated by a charter written in the summer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's meeting in Dallas. The charter instructs dioceses how to handle allegations of clerical sexual abuse.

Warfel, in a statement Wednesday, said the group discussed the status and progress of the Nash investigation, asked for information about those or any other allegations, and tried to determine the next step in resolving the matter.

Warfel said Nash did not attend the meeting. He said the group is expected to meet again late this month.

Travers, spokesman for the lay committee, declined to elaborate on what was discussed at the meeting. He said having the bishop speak for the group doesn't affect its impartiality.

Warfel said Nash was unavailable for comment because he was in Wisconsin meeting with a Catholic canon attorney. Fred Triem, Nash's Petersburg attorney, did not respond to phone calls or e-mails from the Empire by today's midday deadline.

Warfel told parishioners shortly after the allegations went public that Nash would be staying with him while police conducted an investigation. But Wednesday, Warfel said Nash would be traveling and staying in an undisclosed location when in Juneau.

"I want to at least give the appearance of being neutral," said Warfel. "I think it's best to keep myself separate."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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