Ex-Priest, Accused of Abuse, Turns in Psychology License

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times [Bellevue WA]
Downloaded January 16, 2004

A Bellevue psychologist with a history of molesting teenagers surrendered his state psychology license yesterday.

The Rev. Patrick O'Donnell, who is also a Roman Catholic priest formerly with the Spokane Diocese, turned in his license nearly 1-1/2 years after the state began investigating new allegations that he had sexually abused minors while serving as a priest in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. O'Donnell was removed from active ministry around 1985, but lawsuits against him by about two dozen people claiming past abuse are pending.

O'Donnell surrendered his license as part of a settlement in which he did not admit guilt. The settlement also says it "shall not be construed as a finding of unprofessional conduct or inability to practice" and is not considered a formal disciplinary action.

The settlement allowed the state board that licenses and regulates psychologists to "achieve its goal of protecting the public without putting the alleged victims through a long and probably difficult hearing process," said Robert Nicoloff, executive director of the Washington Examining Board of Psychology. "The removal of a license is the strongest public protection mechanism available to the board."

Neither O'Donnell nor his attorney could not be reached for comment.

The state board began in August 2002 to investigate new molestation complaints filed with the Spokane Diocese against O'Donnell. None of the complaints involved O'Donnell's conduct during his years as a psychologist.

At least two men came forward, who hadn't approached the board before, to tell the board O'Donnell had molested them in the 1970s.

It took the board this long to reach a settlement because it had to contact the alleged victims, obtain all the documents, conduct an investigation, and make its decisions, Nicoloff said.

"This is great news," said Jim Biteman of Renton, one of about 24 people who have lawsuits pending against O'Donnell. Biteman accuses O'Donnell of molesting him while the priest was serving at a Seattle parish. "To know that Patrick O'Donnell will no longer be able to practice, and no longer be able to hurt children in a trusting and vulnerable environment eases my mind."

Until 2002, O'Donnell, who received his psychology license in 1980, was treating patients 12 and older at a clinic in Bellevue.

The state has sanctioned O'Donnell before. In 1984, it prohibited the psychologist from any unsupervised contact with minor males in his practice after determining O'Donnell, while still in active ministry, had molested two 13-year-old boys during an overnight boating trip on Lake Coeur d'Alene in 1980. Those sanctions were lifted in 1986, and he was allowed to resume his practice unsupervised.

Today, the state has more laws barring sexual abuse and the licensing board "more knowledge and lower tolerance of risk to the public," Nicoloff said.

O'Donnell was ordained in Spokane in 1971. After an allegation of misconduct arose in 1976 at Spokane's Assumption parish, the bishop sent O'Donnell to Seattle for 2? years of sexual-deviancy treatment.

While in Seattle, he celebrated Mass at St. Paul's parish in Rainier Beach and earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of Washington. Following treatment, O'Donnell continued to serve in parishes in Eastern Washington until he was forced out of the ministry.

Lawsuits filed against O'Donnell claim the priest molested altar boys, students and Boy Scouts. One of the suits accused O'Donnell and the Spokane Diocese of being responsible for the 2002 suicide of a man who claimed to have been abused by the priest.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or

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