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  Skylstad Names Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse All Six Have Left or Were Removed from Ministry, Bishop Says

By Carla K. Johnson, Kevin Taylor and Nina Culver
Spokesman Review
October 24, 2002

Bishop William Skylstad released the names of six Catholic priests accused

of sexual abuse of minors Wednesday and turned over information on them and

several deceased priests to law enforcement officials.

All the alleged abuse occurred at least 15 years ago, the bishop said in a

statement, "and action was taken to remove these men from ministry when the

diocese became aware of the allegations."

Skylstad's statement contained minimal information: no details of

allegations, no amounts of money paid in any settlements to victims, no names

of parishes where the priests worked, no names of deceased priests who also

were accused.

But the bishop's action, which went further than the recommendation he

received from his sex-abuse advisory committee, comes down on the side of

openness, rather than priests' rights.

Across the country, there's been great variation in church officials'

responses to the sex-abuse crisis that has rocked the American Catholic Church

for the past year. Some have fought in court to keep priests' names secret. At

the other extreme, one cardinal posted names and allegations on the Internet.

Victims and some churchgoers have called for the release of names in order

to prevent future victimization, to hold alleged molesters accountable and to

help past victims heal. But more recently, some priests have advocated for due

process rights, and the Vatican has asked for revisions in the U.S. bishops'

"zero tolerance" policy that called for ousting any priest after one

instance of sexual misconduct.

Four of the priests named Wednesday were removed from the ministry. James

J. O'Malley was removed in 1989, Theodore F.X. Bradley this year, Arthur C.

Mertens in 1989 and Reinard W. Beaver in 1983.

Two of the accused priests resigned: Patrick G. O'Donnell in 1985 and

Bernard O. Oosterman in 1980.

Skylstad, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,

explained why he decided to release the names during a brief interview

Wednesday.

"We had no doubt about the validity of the claims," he said. "Some of

the news media already had names. We wanted to stop the snarfing around. It's

been a media frenzy."

The head of Skylstad's sex-abuse advisory committee, retired Judge Phil

Thompson, said the committee recommended reporting the names only to the

police.

"There were different degrees of culpability involved (among the six

priests)," Thompson said. "Releasing all the names would cause them all to

be painted with the same brush."

But because names were appearing in the news and in civil lawsuits filed by

alleged victims, Thompson said Skylstad found it unrealistic to delay

releasing the names.

The committee met three times before making its recommendation. Members had

received all the information the diocese possessed about all accused priests,

"living or dead," said Vicar General Steven Dublinski, who also served on

the committee.

Dublinski said information on "a few" deceased priests was turned over to

Spokane police officials Wednesday afternoon in a 2-1/2-hour meeting.

Dublinski and the diocese's attorney filed police reports on the six named

priests, too.

Skylstad's office first made contact with police a week or 10 days ago,

said Al Odenthal, deputy chief of the Spokane Police Department.

Odenthal said detectives were already reviewing documents they received

Wednesday from the diocese.

"There is no crime, except for homicide, that we take more seriously than

child abuse - and child sexual abuse, specifically," Odenthal said.

Even if the statute of limitations has expired for criminal prosecution,

investigators may be able to substantiate claims - or clear people who are

wrongly accused, he said.

In each instance where investigators can substantiate improper or criminal

activity occurred, they will consult with prosecutors to see if a case can be

taken to court, Odenthal said.

"Bishop Skylstad has said it is the intent of the church from this point

on," to report allegations of sexual abuse to the appropriate police agency

anywhere in the diocese, Odenthal said.

Skylstad said he has drafted a letter that will be mailed to all Catholic

households in the diocese. The letter "will address the overall situation in

the diocese," Dublinski said.

The bishop's action was praised by members of a Spokane support group for

victims. One noted the bishop's decisiveness in light of last week's request

from the Vatican for changes in the U.S. bishops' policy.

"This shows they're not only willing to help the victims, they're willing

to take on the Vatican," said Michael Ross, co-founder of the Spokane chapter

of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

But SNAP's national director, David Clohessy, said he had hoped for more

details, such as dollar amounts of settlements with alleged victims.

"Skylstad is not just any bishop, he's the vice president," Clohessy

said. "It's reasonable to expect him to be more proactive."

Several of the named priests spent time at parishes that operated

elementary schools on the church grounds. Bradley, O'Malley and O'Donnell

spent time at St. John Vianney in the Spokane Valley. Oosterman, Bradley and

Mertens were assigned to St. Francis Xavier, which operated a school for 93

years until it closed in 1999.

O'Donnell already had been named in two lawsuits, which accuse him of

molesting several young boys, and in extensive media coverage. Bradley also

had been identified in news reports about a settled lawsuit involving his

alleged decades-old involvement with a teenage girl.

Reinard Beaver, one of the accused priests named Wednesday, praised

Skylstad.

"My comment is that I have the deepest esteem and the highest regard for

Bishop Skylstad. He did what he had to do," said Beaver, reached on his cell

phone near his home in Steilacoom, Wash.

Beaver said he appreciated a call he received from Skylstad on Tuesday to

inform him of the impending release of names.

"We're old friends and these are old stories," Beaver said. "I'm not

bitter. I'm better because of this."

Beaver, 73, said he has an attorney who advised him not to comment on

details of allegations against him. He also said he would withhold comment

about whether he thought his rights have been violated by the release of his

name.

A 61-year-old man, who asked to remain anonymous, said Beaver molested him

when he was 15 during a trip to Seattle. As a teenager, he had worked at St.

Augustine's Catholic Church on the South Hill. When he returned from the trip,

he abruptly quit his job and quit church.

"I couldn't tell my folks," the man said. "They were upset and wondered

why I had quit such a good job and quit going to church with them."

He didn't report the abuse until 1990 when he told a St. Augustine's

official. By then, Beaver already had been removed from the ministry.

The other named priests did not return phone messages seeking comment.

 
 

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