This story was originally published on March 31, 2004
A day after Catholic Church officials identified a deceased Kenai priest and said he was accused of sexually abusing a girl in a one-time incident, they corrected that account and said the abuse continued for years. In their revised version Tuesday, the Anchorage Archdiocese vicar general said the girl’s sexual abuse apparently began when she was 10 or 12 and lasted until she was 18.
The day before, the church said the victim was between 13 and 16 and the abuse spanned only a day or so.
The Anchorage Archdiocese had identified the Rev. Robert Wells to Kenai Peninsula parishioners on Sunday, the first voluntary identification of a Catholic priest accused of child molestation within the diocese. Wells, of the Redemptorist order, is one of three such accused priests from the archdiocese.
A review by church authorities of the archdiocese's file dealing with the allegation showed that the abuse continued regularly for years before the girl broke off the relationship when she was 18, said the Rev. Donald Bramble, Anchorage's vicar general.
The sexual abuse appeared to be mostly fondling, "but clearly sexual in nature and inappropriate and a complete violation," Bramble said.
The girl's family was close to Wells, Bramble said, and the priest was a confidant for her. He did not know when or where the abuse started, but it likely took place when Wells served in Kenai. According to an obituary, Wells came to Alaska in 1974 and was the pastor at Our Lady of the Angels in Kenai until 1988 and spent two years in Seward from 1988 to 1990 before he suffered a heart attack.
Wells was 68 when he died in April 1992, and the girl reported the sexual abuse to the archdiocese in the fall of that year, Bramble said.
The archdiocese's three-member sexual misconduct committee heard her case and found her allegations credible. According to the file, she did not want to go public or pursue the case legally, Bramble said. The archdiocese has provided counseling for her since.
She is the only person to have brought an accusation of sexual abuse against Wells to church authorities, Bramble said.
Explaining the difference between Monday's and Tuesday's accounts, Bramble said he hadn't had time to review the file with information about the girl's allegations until Tuesday morning. Sister Charlotte Davenport, the archdiocese's chancellor who gave information about the case Monday, said she did not see the file herself.
Church officials had kept Wells' identity secret until Sunday. They revealed his name, they said, because of pressure from parishioners who wanted to know whether their children had been at risk of abuse from priests with previous allegations against them, and also to encourage other possible victims to come forward.
The archdiocese submitted three names last year to a national study on child sex abuse within the Catholic church from 1950 to 2002. Only the name of Monsignor Francis Murphy had been made public in press accounts. With the identification of Wells, one priest remains unnamed.
Davenport said he is alive and attached to another diocese, which complicates whether the archdiocese can identify him publicly. Church officials are also trying to contact victims.
Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Bramble and Davenport were in Soldotna on Tuesday to answer questions about Wells and other church-related issues at a town hall meeting.