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Early problems recalled by bishop

SEATTLE – When the Rev. Alexander J. Brunett was academic dean at a Roman Catholic seminary in the 1960s and complained about homosexuality among students, he was reassigned to parish work.

Four decades later, as archbishop of Seattle, Brunett says the subculture he was fighting, including drugs and hippies, is at the root of many of the sexual abuse cases besetting the church today.

In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for an article published Tuesday, he added that many of the priests cited in sex abuse cases coming to light in recent years were ordained in the ‘60s.

“It seems to be the period from which all these problems are coming from. I was one that fought that, because I thought it was unhelpful,” Brunett said. “I was right on the mark with these people.”

Brunett, 70, a native of Detroit, said he told his archbishop that the seminary had a “large colony of homosexual people” who went to gay bars, and he tried to keep some students from being ordained.

In response, Brunett said, he was branded “counterproductive” and removed from the seminary.

The seminary was not identified in the article. A biography of the archbishop on an archdiocese Web site said he was academic dean of St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Mich., but did not give the dates of his tenure.

Brunett said some of the gay seminarians he knew turned out to be pedophiles. He also cited a recent national study indicating 81 percent of minor victims of sexual abuse by priests were male.

“One would not want to draw a tie (between homosexuality and child abuse), but I think it does raise the question,” he said.

For seven years Brunett has been in charge of 179 parishes and faith groups in Western Washington, overseeing a $200 million annual budget, nearly 6,500 employees, the state’s largest private school system and the state’s second-largest social service organization.

Last week, an investigative report on the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases included a recommendation to identify 36 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children.

“The secrecy must stop,” said the report by the church-appointed Case Review Board, a panel of Catholics and non-Catholics led by retired King County Superior Court Judge Terrence A. Carroll.

Brunett has rejected the recommendation because the 36 priests have all died, left the archdiocese, been reduced to lay status or are very elderly, and accusations against them cannot be substantiated, said his spokesman, Greg Magnoni.

“The code of canon law requires that the archbishop protect the good name of priests,” Magnoni said. “He has to assume their good name and protect it.”

Brunett said he has met personally with almost 40 victims of abuse by priests to offer comfort, traveling to places ranging from Vancouver, British Columbia, to North Carolina, Kansas and Detroit.

“Even when somebody is suing me, I let them know, through their lawyer, that I’d be happy to meet with them,” he said.

According to a national study this year, 49 of 1,249 clergy members who have served in the archdiocese since 1950 have been accused of sexually abusing minors, about the same abuse rate as the church’s national average.

Even so, a national bishops’ audit recently praised policies adopted in 1987 in Seattle for prevention and handling of abuse by priests. Two years ago Brunett apologized to victims in full-page ads that ran in eight newspapers in the archdiocese.

He also has been working to create an institute to study child sexual abuse but says he’s fed up with news coverage of claims against the church that date from circumstances decades ago.

“It’s ancient history!” he maintained. “People are getting tired of ancient history! People can only read the same article 18 times. There’s nothing new.”

Then he quickly added, “That’s not the same thing as saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about victims.”

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