Yakima Diocese Pays $200,000 to Settle Abuse Lawsuits by Women

Associated Press, carried in in Columbian
January 10, 2008

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima has paid $200,000 to settle lawsuits by four women who said they were sexually abused by a priest as children in the 1960s.

In addition, Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla apologized to the women in personal letters, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

"I can assure you that I am personally committed to the safety and well-being of all the people of the Diocese of Yakima entrusted to my pastoral care, particularly children and youth," Sevilla wrote.

The settlement brings total payments by the diocese to about $1.25 million to resolve claims involving seven priests.

The women, identified in legal papers by their initials, R.L, M.S., F.C. and M.H., said they were raped by the late Rev. Michael J. Simpson when he was the parish priest at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Toppenish.

According the lawsuit, diocese officials knew at the time that Simpson, a native of Ireland, had a drinking problem. He died in Ireland in 1977.

"He was able to grab children - our clients and probably others - and rape them on the desk in his rectory office and sexually assault them with the handles of hairbrushes," said the women's lawyer, Timothy D. Kosnoff of Seattle. "The facts of these cases are ugly and outrageous."

Three women who filed claims of abuse by Simpson - Rose Lamey of the Seattle area; her sister, Mary Yates Smith of Spokane, and Fran Crabtree Cuhtahlatah of Ellensburg - came forward in a news conference in 2005.

Church officials said the diocese learned of the abuse claims only when the sister of one of the plaintiffs wrote a letter to Sevilla in 2004.

Kosnoff said the settlement, amounting to $50,000 a plaintiff minus legal costs, was smaller than in many other church abuse cases partly because of the unavailability of witnesses, including Simpson's supervisor, who died before he could be questioned under oath for a pretrial deposition. Lamey also is getting $20,000 for counseling.

Sevilla's chief of staff, the Rev. Robert M. Siler, said diocesan officials felt they had a strong defense but decided to settle to avoid the potential liability and costs of going to trial.

"On the other hand, if these women were abused, we're very sorry for it," Siler said.


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