46 years after alleged abuse, lawsuit against Catholic Church settled

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/January 30, 2015

By Mitch Mitchell

Fort Worth -- For more than four decades, the woman known in court documents as Jane Doe was silent about her claims that she was sexually assaulted by her priest.

While she pursued her career and marriage, the target of her allegations, Father Bede Mitchel, continued to teach and work in the Catholic Church and maintained a good reputation, according to one church official.

Even after her mental and physical state deteriorated so much that she could no longer perform her work duties, the woman remained quiet about the abuse. Her husband, John Doe, filed a lawsuit on her behalf in November, court documents show.

The court approved a settlement last week for an undisclosed amount in the lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Ark. The abuse began in 1969 when Jane Doe was 8 and continued for one or two years, according to the family’s attorney, Tahira Khan Merritt.

Mitchel, who died in 1982, was a Benedictine cleric from Subiaco Abbey. From 1969 to 1975, he was assigned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Muenster as an assistant pastor and to the St. Peter Parish in Lindsay, both in Cooke County, north of Fort Worth.

Mitchel eventually returned to Subiaco Abbey.

“Victims like Jane Doe do not bring these cases for any reason other than to be heard, to be healed and to find out what church officials knew about their perpetrator and when they knew it,” said Merritt, who has represented more than 100 clergy-abuse victims.

“Victims want to be believed by the church and to prevent other children from being harmed. It is never about money. How could it be? Who wants to relive being raped as a child by their priest?”

Subiaco Abbot Jerome Kodell said he knew Mitchel for years. Nothing in Mitchel’s record or his diary indicates wrongdoing, Kodell said. A search for corroborating evidence of the sexual assault turned up empty, Kodell said.

“The abbey did not want to settle. The insurance provider opted to settle,” Kodell said. “If this had gone to trial, Mitchel would have been found innocent.”

The insurance provider may have settled in part because Mitchel died a long time ago and could not defend himself and because a trial would have been time-consuming and expensive, Kodell said.

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