SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A Hawaii man claims he was the victim of child sexual abuse by a longtime Utah Catholic priest decades ago and wants the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City held accountable.
The victim wants to remain anonymous but he told ABC4’s Rick Aaron on the phone that he believes that the Diocese knew there were problems with Father Lawrence Spellen.
Spellen served as a priest and campus chaplain in a number of places in Utah from 1953 to 1992, including four years at Judge Memorial High School and nine years at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Salt Lake City.
In 1974, he was assigned to be a counselor at Damien Memorial High School in Honolulu. That’s where the victim, known in a class action lawsuit as Roe 20, says Father Spellen repeatedly sexually abused him when he was a 14-year-old freshman.
“The man was bad,” Roe 20 said Monday. “It was obvious to me, based on what I learned about how it worked, that they knew they had an issue and they were just trying to move him around to different places to keep the problem contained.”
Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City says that’s not the case, claiming they weren’t aware of any abuse until Spellen reported himself in 1992.
“There were no allegations raised until his self-report in ’92,” Hill said. “That was the end of his time as a priest in the Diocese once he reported that there had been an allegation and the Diocese found that there was credibility to that allegation.”
Spellen died in 2003 at the age of 85. Roe 20, now 58 years old, is enduring a lifetime of pain.
“It still hurts to this day. Because I lost a lot of years of not having a good life because this affected me in so many ways,” he said. “When someone does something like that to a young kid, they’re murdering him, murdering his soul…We need to be able to hold those accountable the people who actually put us in harm’s way. This wasn’t some guy who was walking down the street and pulled me into his car and raped me. This was a person…they put him in my way.”
Roe 20 says he has received a monetary settlement from the Catholic Diocese of Hawaii but he says what he wants the most of all is an apology.
The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City encourages victims to come forward to share their story and get help no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.