Three Priests Assigned to Mercer Island Abused Children over Decades
By Allison DeAngelis
Mercer Island Reporter
January 28, 2016
Three priests who served in Mercer Island and were accused of sexually abusing children over nearly three decades were among the names on a list recently released by the Archdiocese of Seattle as part of their self-proclaimed commitment to transparency.
“This is an ongoing effort for us. The disclosure of this list was determined to be a step that would contribute to our accountability and transparency,” said Greg Magnoni, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
But some say the list is too little, too late.
“At least the archdiocese, ostensibly, released the list in an effort to be transparent. But it raises the questions of why now and why did it take so long to release this?” said Seattle attorney Michael Pfau, who has represented over 150 plaintiffs in cases of sexual abuse by priests, including many on the Eastside.
Mercer Island priests James Gandrau, Dennis Kemp and Leo Racine were identified in the archdiocese’s list of 77 priests in Western Washington. They all served at St. Monica in Mercer Island.
Gandrau, now deceased, served the longest stint from 1977-1990; Leo Racine, who was formally laicized or “defrocked,” served from 1979-1982. Kemp, whose current status is listed as “permanent prayer and penance,” served at St. Monica from 1973-1976, then again from 2002-2007.
According to the archdiocese, the allegations against the 77 individuals were either admitted, established or determined to be credible.
Allegations against many of the priests had been brought forward over the last three decades. Several of them were sued in civil cases, some multiple times.
Three brothers came forward in 2002 and filed a lawsuit against Bellevue priest John Marsh in which they allege he molested all of them. One of the brothers recounted in court documents being taken on a camping trip to Lake Curlew in the summer of 1970.
“Defendant Marsh sexually abused [the victim] in Marsh’s car, in an open field, in a state park and at a location in Bellevue, Washington,” according to the documents.
The timeline of the brothers’ molestation overlaps with Marsh’s assignment at St. Madeleine Sophie in Bellevue.
The Reporter was able to locate six lawsuits filed against priest Barry Ashwell, who served at the Sacred Heart in Bellevue between 1969 and 1970.
The acts of molestation recounted in the lawsuits occurred between 1970 and 1985.
In one of the lawsuits, a former Whidbey Island resident alleged that he was staying overnight at the Sacred Heart parish when he awoke to find Ashwell molesting him. It is also alleged that the archdiocese had received numerous reports of the priest sexually abusing children prior to the incident, but did nothing.
After bouncing around parishes throughout the region, Ashwell was assigned to St. Augustines for 22 years.
“Barry Ashwell is a very, very interesting story. That there were problems as early as the seminary … I’ve represented a number of Ashwell victims, so he molested a number of kids,” Pfau said.
Others alleged that the priest molested them at Catholic Youth Organization camps, gave them drugs or alcohol and made them watch pornography, the documents continue. Ashwell also adopted or fostered adolescent boys during this time period, one of whom accused him of molestation.
The archdiocese placed him on administrative leave in 2002 after the allegations surfaced. He was laicized in 2005 and his current location is unknown.
Harold Quigg, who is now deceased, was assigned to Sacred Heart in Bellevue during the period in which he maintained a sexual relationship with an unidentified teenager.
In a May 2014 statement in response to community concerns over Quigg, the archdiocese said that they take the abuse of power and exploitation of the vulnerable, whether minors or adults, very seriously.
But, the information about Quigg’s actions in 1980 were kept private at Quigg’s request and also because the archdiocese concluded that the incident did not constitute sexual abuse of a minor under canon and civil law at the time. While the then-archbishop Alex Brunett restricted Quigg from participating in any public priestly ministry, presenting himself publicly as a priest or wearing clerical garb in 2004, it was later discovered that Quigg did not comply with these rules.
The person whom Quigg had sexual relations with in 1980 was 17 years old at the time. Parish leadership were not made aware of the allegations until 2014.
Quigg died last year. He was eventually defrocked, according to Magnoni, who stressed that call is made by the Vatican.
Reviewing the crimes
After victims began speaking up, the archdiocese created the Archdiocesan Case Review Board to assess allegations of sexual abuse and advise the archbishop, according to the board’s documents. The board consisted of 11 former judges, sexual assault specialists, attorneys, Catholic officials and more, and met over 18 months.
In a report they presented to the archdiocese in June 2004, the board reviewed 13 cases of sexual assault and made several recommendations, including that the archdiocese release the names of all priests found to have sexually abused minors.
Then-Archbishop Alex Brunett did not take the report well, according to one of the board members.
“There was resistance to our work,” attorney and former board member Michael McKay told the Reporter. “Before the report was finalized, they tried to get us to rewrite the report. The archbishop and his staff did not want to publicize it.”
Magnoni said that the archdiocese has taken all recommendations made by different boards into serious consideration.
Shortly after the report was finished, Brunett disbanded the case review board and created a new board. None of the members of the case review board were asked to join the new entity.
Nearly six months after the report was given to Brunett, McKay and five other members of the review board joined together and wrote him a letter expressing concern over the archbishop’s response, or lack thereof.
Despite the board’s recommendation, the archbishop had initially declined to make the report public and the names of priests accused of sexual assault. It was only after the review board threatened to resign that the archbishop did the former. Only just last week — more than 11 years later — did they do the latter.
Some question whether the list goes far enough.
“If the release of the names did anything, I am glad it is finally causing people to talk about this. But what I would really like to see is the archbishop release the files on these priests. If you really, really want to talk transparency,” Pfau said.
As the archdiocese moves forward, if additional measures such as releasing files are determined to be the right path, they will consider them, Magnoni said.
Also notably absent from the archdiocese’s release were any names of employees of the archdiocese against whom allegations of sexual abuse had been made, he said.
In 2012, Pfau represented a victim in a case against a vice principal at St. Benedict’s in Seattle.
Additionally, one of the victims in the 2002 Marsh lawsuit stated that he turned to an employee of the archdiocese named James Walsh and asked him to stop Marsh from sexually abusing him. Walsh then allegedly proceeded to serve the minor alcohol and sexually abuse and molest him, according to the court documents.
The archbishop also reportedly responded to the report and said that they had already implemented most of the recommendations and that there would not likely be any further incidents of child sexual abuse in the church.
“We are especially concerned because your position is that all of the issues have already been remedied,” the letter, dated Dec. 20, 2004, read. “We believe that to imply or state otherwise as you have is misleading to the public and the Catholic community. It is just such a position that has come back to haunt many an organization that believed the risk is gone.”
The penalties (or lack thereof)
Given the delay in both the victims coming forward and the archdiocese taking action, most men never faced penalties for their crimes.
Victims of abuse often do not come forward for decades. By that time, the statute of limitations on criminal cases has often run out and the only recourse is to pursue civil litigation.
The majority of those cases are settled and never make it to trial.
Many victims are profoundly affected and often have their whole lives altered by the abuse, according to Pfau.
In a letter to the community released on Jan. 15, the current archbishop J. Peter Sartain said that one of first priorities when he became archbishop in 2010 was the sexual abuse of minors. The archdiocese’s work is far from over, and training and prevention efforts are ongoing, he added.
“Many of us, certainly me, did that out of love for the church,” McKay said of his time on the board and his hopes for the archdiocese. “The church is an organization of human beings, and human beings are going to screw up. What you can do is put into place tools and procedures to reduce the chances of that happening and increase reporting.”
The archdiocese is committed to taking further action, Magnoni said.
“It’s easy to stand on the other side of this coin and suggest that things should have been done, but if you’re on this side of it, you realize it’s not possible in every single case,” he said. “If anyone has ideas about how we can address things of this nature, believe me, we are open.”