Former Priest Accused of Abuse

By Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald-Republic

September 5, 2008

A former Yakima resident filed a lawsuit Tuesday in King County against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima and a former priest here.

A woman, identified only by the initials M.C., alleged that she was sexually molested as a teenager 40 years ago by Christopher Breen, a priest who served at St. Paul Cathedral Church.

Now in her mid-50s, she contended that she was physically and sexually abused between 1968-1972.

Breen, who left the priesthood more than 30 years ago, served in the Yakima diocese from 1960 to 1976.

Breen, who is in his mid-70s, is married and lives in Kenmore, Wash.

The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages, funds for counseling and other treatment and attorney's fees.

Breen's name has not previously appeared on lists released by the Yakima diocese of priests with allegations made against them. On Thursday, the Rev. Robert Siler, diocesan chief of staff, said that no calls had been made to the diocesan hot line to report abuse by Breen.

"This is the first legal complaint the Diocese of Yakima has received about Mr. Breen," Siler wrote in a statement. "A review of his personnel file showed no complaints of abuse during his 16 years of service as a priest of the diocese."

Tim Kosnoff, the Seattle attorney representing M.C., said that she was about 15 years old when the alleged abuse began.

During the previous five years, M.C.'s mother had been hospitalized periodically for mental illness, and her parents later decided to divorce, Kosnoff said.

After M.C.'s father suggested she seek counseling because of the family's troubles, M.C. asked Breen, her parish priest at St. Paul's, if he would counsel her. Breen agreed.

Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit alleges, Breen began sexually assaulting the teen. The alleged abuse ended sometime around M.C.'s 18th birthday.

According to M.C.'s attorney, Breen has denied the allegations. Two phone calls to Breen seeking comment were not returned.

Breen first arrived in Yakima after being ordained in his native country of Ireland in 1960 when he was in his late 20s. In addition to serving at St. Paul Cathedral, he also taught at the now-defunct Central Catholic High School.

He was rector of St. Peter the Apostle Seminary in Cowiche beginning in 1962 until it closed in 1968. He was then named pastor of St. Paul Cathedral, leaving there in 1976, when he was granted a one-year leave of absence. He never returned to St. Paul and subsequently left the priesthood.

According to a 1996 feature story on Breen that ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he married a woman in 1976 whom he had met in Yakima, Susan Blake. He was in his mid-40s, she in her mid-20s. Before the marriage, Blake helped to raise funds for St. Paul Cathedral Church.

They moved to Seattle, where Breen went to work as executive director of Big Brothers of King County; he retired from that post 14 years ago.

He also helped families of fishermen lost at sea through the Seattle Fisherman Memorial Committee and twice served as board president of Hospice of Seattle.

Reached by telephone Thursday, Kosnoff, M.C.'s attorney, alleged that the diocese "knew or should have known that someone was committing these criminal acts" against his client.

Kosnoff has previously represented four women who alleged they were abused by another former priest in the Yakima diocese, the Rev. Michael Simpson, who is deceased.

The four women settled their claims with the diocese for $200,000 in January.


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