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  Zillah Native Claims Priest Molested Her in 1962

By Chris Bristol
Yakima Herald-Republic
February 17, 2005

For several minutes they wandered about the empty corridors of the diocese headquarters, looking for Bishop Carlos Sevilla's office.

Armed with the latest lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima and trailed by reporters, the group was there to serve Sevilla a copy of the suit in person and to demand a new accounting of priests "known or suspected" of sexually abusing children.

Trouble was, nobody was there. The lights were on, doors were open -- but nobody was there.

It was, they said, a symbolic moment. The diocese, they said, has never really been there for parishioners who were molested by its clerics.

"I'm not surprised," said a glum Rose Yates Lamey, 53, who is suing the diocese for abuse she says she suffered at the hands of a priest at St. Aloysius Church in Toppenish more than 40 years ago.

"This problem (of priest abuse) has gone on for generations," added her attorney, Tim Kosnoff of Seattle. "It's almost fitting there's nobody home."

The attempt to serve Sevilla was the anticlimatic conclusion to a news conference that Kosnoff and members of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests, staged for the media Wednesday morning outside the diocese chancery on Tieton Drive.

Shivering in the cold glare of a brilliant blue sky, Lamey publicly identified herself as the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago in Yakima County Superior Court.

A native of Zillah, the Seattle woman says she was molested in 1962 by the Rev. Michael J. Simpson, a young priest at St. Aloysius who, according to the diocese, is now deceased.

But Lamey and her SNAP supporters say they are so distrustful of diocese officials that they question whether it's even true that Simpson is dead. The church, they said, has done little to identify past victims.

Also on hand Wednesday were two other women -- Lamey's sister, Mary Yates Smith, and Fran Crabtree Cuhtahlatah-- who said they too were molested by Simpson. They have not decided yet whether to sue.

"It's no secret that church officials for decades have aided and abetted known or suspected molesters in the church," said Mary Grant, western regional director of SNAP, which claims 5,000 members nationwide. "It's no secret that still today many church officials needlessly place children at risk of abuse by refusing to disclose names."

Grant's comments hinted at Sevilla's controversial decision not to sideline a Yakima priest who was the subject of a child pornography investigation last year.

Although prosecutors eventually declined to file charges, the priest was not put on administrative leave during the investigation and instead performed Mass as well as other pastoral duties several times at St. Paul Cathedral.

Against that backdrop, victims of priest abuse are being urged to call the police instead of the diocese to make a complaint.

"We did not find each other because church officials came to us," Grant said. "We found each other through the media... If they truly want to reach out victims ... they can do that, but they refuse to do it."

A year ago the diocese reported paying out just over $1 million to 14 abuse victims dating to 1950. Church officials also released the names of four clerics accused of abuse.

Two of the clerics, both of them priests, are no longer with the church. One died in 1969. The fourth fled to Mexico in 1999 to avoid prosecution and is no longer ordained.

At the same time, the diocese acknowledged that two other priests had been accused of abuse but wouldn't name them. The church reached settlements with victims in those cases in 1999 and 2002.

Sevilla has refused in the past to release names of accused priests who are now dead, and it remains unclear if Simpson is one of the two unnamed priests.

Sevilla did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment on the allegations made by SNAP. Neither did Russell Mazzola, a Yakima attorney who heads the diocese's Lay Advisory Board.

According to a church-sponsored survey, about 4 percent of the 109,000 Catholic clerics who have served in the U.S. since 1950 have been accused of sexually abusing children.

The six clerics in the Yakima diocese represented half the average.

Kosnoff, Rose Lamey's attorney, said he doubts Simpson molested only a couple of girls in his 14 years with the Yakima diocese. His law firm has represented more than 100 clients in lawsuits against the church in Seattle and Spokane.

"We think this is the beginning of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Yakima diocese," he said. "Stay tuned."

 
 

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