Lacey Man Files Lawsuit against Area Archdiocese
Alleged Abuse Victim Says Officials Tricked Him into Settling Claim
By Scott Gutierrez firstname.lastname@example.org
The Olympian [Olympia WA]
July 30, 2004
A Lacey man who says he was molested by a priest in the late 1960s has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, accusing church officials of deceiving him into settling a claim of sexual abuse without hiring his own attorney.
The victim, now in his 50s, was molested by Fr. James McGreal while he was an altar boy at St. Michael Catholic Church in Olympia. McGreal, now in his 80s, was at the center of an $8.6 million settlement between the archdiocese and 16 men who sued him for sexual abuse.
The plaintiff, identified as "J.B." in court papers, came forward in 2003 by calling a special hot line for victims and those who want to report allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
According to the lawsuit, Jessie Dye, a pastoral outreach coordinator and ombudsman, contacted the plaintiff. It alleges that she offered to connect him with therapy and spiritual support but never disclosed that she was an attorney. The lawsuit also alleges that she urged him not to hire his own legal counsel before negotiating a $100,000 settlement.
The lawsuit, filed this month in Thurston County Superior Court, accuses the archdiocese of fraud, malpractice and violating consumer protection laws.
"He got betrayed when he was sexually assaulted and he got betrayed again by Jessie Dye when she wasn't up front with him, especially after she gained his trust," said Kevin Johnson, the Olympia attorney representing the plaintiff. "Granted, a lot of people think $100,000 is a lot of money. However, it's far lower than a lot of other claims that have been settled."
The archdiocese contracts with Dye, who has extensive background in mediation and conflict resolution in sexual abuse cases, to respond to calls made to the special hot line. The archdiocese encourages victims to come forward and uses the hot line as one of several means to connect victims with pastoral support and other resources, spokesman Greg Magnoni said.
"In most cases, we encourage people to meet with the pastoral outreach coordinator in order to determine what the next best steps are and to immediately get people into counseling and to meet with the Archbishop himself," Magnoni said.
If a victim indicates that he or she plans to hire an attorney, the archdiocese would not deter them, he said.
The archdiocese established a policy for handling sexual-abuse victims in 1988, and Dye has been instrumental in overseeing it. Overall, the goal is to show victims compassion, sensitivity and to give them the benefit of the doubt, Magnoni said.
"I find it highly unlikely that Jessie, of all people, would have done anything that would not have been in the best long-term interest of somebody who called in," he said.
The plaintiff decided to come forward after years of struggling with psychological trauma and after the recent settlement with other McGreal victims, Johnson said.
Dye arranged to meet the plaintiff at his home and met with him several times over a year. She provided him with a list of therapists, promised that counseling would be provided at the archdiocese's expense, and told him his allegations would be investigated, court papers say.
But the lawsuit alleges that she urged him not to hire an attorney who would "take a large portion of the money he would receive." The plaintiff also alleges that she told him he would not receive more than $100,000 because he was older than other victims when they were abused, according to the lawsuit.
Soon after signing the agreement, the archdiocese stopped paying for his therapy, the lawsuit alleges. He then suffered a nervous breakdown and checked himself into Providence St. Peter Hospital's psychiatric unit, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified monetary award for emotional and psychological distress and other damages suffered by the victim.
"She unduly influenced him into thinking everything was going to be OK," Johnson said. "What I'd like to accomplish is to get him necessary treatment and to get him what his case is worth."
But Michael Patterson, the archdiocese's Seattle attorney, said the settlement included reimbursement for therapy. Dye never misrepresented herself or the terms of the agreement, he added.
"From what I understand, the plaintiff was most anxious to resolve the case and we are perplexed as to why these claims are being brought," Patterson said. "After my review of the facts in this case, I can say the policies and practices were followed. At no time did we ever indicate that they should not hire an attorney."
The victim's age was never a factor, he said.
"There were discrepancies on when the abuse took place. And we worked with the plaintiff to try to resolve those discrepancies," he said.
Jim Biteman, director of the Seattle chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said his organization has received about a dozen calls from people who say they had a similar experience. It has raised questions about methods the archdiocese is using to avoid expensive settlements, he said.
"I think in the end they've shown some compassion, but that compassion is definitely in wolves' clothing," Biteman said.
SNAP had requested last year that the archdiocese replace Dye with a mental health professional, citing concerns that her status as an attorney might deter victims from coming forward. The archdiocese, however, declined, touting her mediation skills and her reputation as being compassionate and conciliatory.
Church officials said Thursday their policy's intent is to facilitate healing, not to influence potential litigation.
"We have ... never had a claim of this type of nature and we've been doing this for 15 years. Since (the policy) has been in effect, it has worked very well," Patterson said. "This is the first claim we've had relative to this issue."
McGreal resigned in 1988 as the sex-abuse allegations were made public. He was accused of sexually assaulting boys at parishes in Seattle, Renton and Port Angeles. He now lives in a secured setting in St. Louis.
Thirteen victims still are in settlement negotiations with the archdiocese, said Michael Pfau, a Seattle attorney representing them. Pfau, who won the $8.6 million settlement for the other victims, said he has about 20 claims pending.
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