Spokane Diocese Settles Priest Abuse Case

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 23, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane has reached a confidential settlement of a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest.

In another case, Spokane Bishop William Skylstad this week removed from ministry a 56-year-old deacon who served parishes in the central Washington towns of Brewster and Twisp for violating church rules on conduct of ministers with minors.

Advocates for sex abuse victims are outraged at the settlement, which they say proves the church is not interested in dealing openly with the cases, said Michael Ross of Spokane, an advocate for victims.

"We cannot allow this," Ross said this week. "That's the reason we were all abused. They've kept these secrets for hundreds of years."

But attorney Kevin Mahoney said the confidentiality was at the request of his client, who did not want his name revealed.

"The privacy and confidentiality request was not requested by the church, it is the idea of my client," Mahoney told The Spokesman-Review in Wednesday's editions.

Mahoney confirmed that a settlement was reached with his client. He also declined to disclose the settlement amount or the name of the alleged abuser.

He said the agreement with the diocese was reached July 15.

Ross is a leader of the local chapter of the victims' group "Voice of the Faithful." He has filed a lawsuit contending he was molested as a 12-year-old by Monsignor Joseph Sondergeld.

He said the church has forfeited the right to keep the cases secret, even if a victim requests that.

"We do not respect the Catholic church's position on secrecy any longer," Ross said. "We want them to give us details that protect victims and protect members of the church."

Currently there are 11 lawsuits pending against the Spokane diocese representing 31 alleged victims.

In his lawsuit, Ross seeks unspecified damages from the Catholic bishops of Spokane and Yakima for abuse he says he suffered at the hands of Sondergeld in Yakima in 1967-68. Sondergeld is now deceased.

Besides Sondergeld, the following men who have served as priests in Spokane have been named as defendants: Patrick O'Donnell, Reinard Beaver, Dominic Doyle and Bernard Oosterman. Another lawsuit has accused a former Spokane priest, Ronald Lane Fontenot, of sexual abuse but did not include the Spokane Diocese as a defendant.

Skylstad this week removed Deacon Wynn Webster, 56, from ministry.

The case did not involve any criminal activity, but violated church guidelines, Skylstad said.

"All ministers of the church know the absolute imperative we have to protect children and vulnerable adults not only from actual instances of abuse, but also from any appearance of impropriety that could be misconstrued by others or lead to the potential for abuse," Skylstad said in a news release.

Webster served at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Brewster and St. Genevieve Catholic Church in Twisp.

Church officials contacted Twisp police and the state Child Protective Services agency about the case.


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