3 Abuse Suits Filed against Archdiocese
6 Plaintiffs Allege Sexual Offenses by Priests
By Vanessa Ho
July 12, 2002
The Seattle Roman Catholic Archdiocese was hit yesterday with three separate lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of boys in the 1970s.
The lawsuits, filed in King County, name the Rev. John Cornelius, the Rev. James McGreal, the Rev. John Marsh and James Walsh, a religious education teacher for the archdiocese in the '70s.
All six plaintiffs filed anonymously, using only their initials. But two of the plaintiffs have leveled the same accusations publicly against their alleged abusers in the past. One plaintiff said his decision to file anonymously arose from family tensions over whether to sue; the second plaintiff had been concerned about the lawsuit's repercussions on his family.
The complaints are at least the third, fourth and fifth in the past year that seek to hold the archdiocese responsible for alleged child sex abuse by priests. Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed around the country since news broke that church officials in Boston and elsewhere tried to cover up allegations of pedophilia.
A former Seattle police chaplain and prominent priest in the Central District, Cornelius resigned in May after accusations that he had sexually abused about a dozen teenage boys in the '70s.
McGreal, a longtime priest who worked in King and Clallam counties, retired in 1988 amid sexual-abuse allegations. This is the third lawsuit he has faced.
Marsh became prominent in the late '70s and early '80s, after writing two books on alcoholism, based on his own experiences. He resigned in 1988.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
"They are each suffering emotional and psychological trauma and grief and sadness that can only be explained by being victims of sexual abuse," said Ted Parry, a Seattle personal-injury lawyer handling all three complaints.
"The archdiocese had an opportunity to protect these children, and they ignored their responsibility to them."
Bill Gallant, spokesman for the archdiocese, said it was inappropriate for him to comment on pending litigation.
Marsh, who lives in Seattle, referred a call seeking comment to his lawyer, who refused to speak to a reporter. McGreal could not be reached for comment.
Cornelius' lawyer, Anne Bremner, said police had cleared him of the allegation mentioned in yesterday's lawsuit.
In the Cornelius complaint, the plaintiff alleges that Cornelius groomed him for abuse when he was a teenage altar boy at Immaculate Conception in Seattle.
The man alleges that when he was 14, Cornelius physically pinned him down and tried to pull down his pants to molest him.
"Before Father John, I loved life, I loved my church, I loved my service in my church," said the man, now 38. "After John Cornelius, my life fell apart."
He said he began doing drugs and became hostile toward authority figures. He said he was suing the church to prevent children from being abused.
Bremner said Cornelius was cleared of the allegation in 1989, when a Seattle police investigation resulted in no criminal charges. In a recent interview, the case detective at the time said the incident had been too old to be prosecuted, but declined to say whether he thought Cornelius committed an act of a criminal nature.
"Father John is aware that the current situation, with the accusations against him, has caused a great deal of hurt to a large number of people," Bremner said.
In the Marsh case, three brothers and their mother are alleging that Marsh sexually molested the men when they were altar boys at St. Anthony in Renton, during the late '60s and early 70s.
The complaint alleges that Marsh often invited the boys to spend the night at the rectory, in order to sexually abuse them.
It says Marsh molested the oldest brother when he was 15, and the middle brother when he was 12. The complaint says Marsh repeatedly molested the middle son for four years, including in his car, a field and a state park during a camping trip. At the time, the boy asked another priest to stop Marsh from abusing him, but Marsh remained a parish pastor, says the complaint.
Marsh, however, was given sick leave from 1972 to 1976, according to the archdiocese. The reason for his leave was unclear, but Marsh discussed his alcoholism treatment several years later in media interviews.
The middle brother also reported the abuse to James Walsh, then a religious education teacher, according to Parry. The complaint says that Walsh then plied the boy with alcohol and molested him as well.
The youngest brother was also abused by Walsh, and repeatedly molested by Marsh, beginning when he was 10, says the complaint.
The archdiocese did not know Walsh's status yesterday, and the complaint says his whereabouts is unknown.
The middle brother, now 45, said the abuse led to suicidal tendencies, panic attacks, alcoholism and psychiatric hospitalizations for 10 years.
Parry said the mother was traumatized by Marsh's actions because she had trusted him and he had abused her family.
In the McGreal case, a 39-year-old man is alleging that the priest repeatedly molested him for four years, beginning when the man was 12 and McGreal was an assistant pastor at St. Anthony in Renton.
Allegations of child molestation followed McGreal for years, but the archdiocese allowed him to continue in ministry, by sending him to a treatment center and transferring him from parish to parish. After 40 years as priest, he resigned in 1988 when news reports revealed the archdiocese's actions.
In 1996, the archdiocese settled a lawsuit filed by a man alleging that he had been sexually abused by McGreal. In May, six former altar boys named McGreal and the archdiocese in a complaint pending in King County. It was McGreal's case in 1988 and that of another priest - the Rev. Paul Conn, who pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with altar boys - that prompted the archdiocese to create its now nationally recognized policies on dealing with sexual abuse.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.