Church Knew of Sex Abuse Claims for Decades

By Vanessa Ho
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter [Seattle WA]
September 6, 2003

For 40 years, the Archdiocese of Seattle hung onto the Rev. James McGreal, despite repeated complaints that he was a serial pedophile. The archdiocese's defense: It had sent him to treatment, restricted his duties and thought he was safe.

Then more complaints would pop up.

Details have always been fuzzy about McGreal, who retired in 1988 and now lives in a locked treatment center. He is now the subject of four lawsuits, which are shedding light on the number of victims and the archdiocese's actions.

The archdiocese has said fewer than 20 men have told it that McGreal abused them. But recently filed court records say that McGreal admitted to his therapist that he molested "hundreds of victims."

Court records also show that the archdiocese knew of allegations against McGreal as early as the late '60s and that former Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen knew of McGreal's abuse in 1977. But it would take him 11 years to finally remove McGreal from ministry.

Sixteen men have sued McGreal and the archdiocese, accusing him of sexually abusing them as boys. They also accuse the archdiocese of failing to protect them. The cases are part of a spate of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese last year, when sex abuse by the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church became a national issue.

The first case against McGreal is scheduled to go to trial next month. Attempts to reach McGreal, now 70 and living in a treatment center for troubled priests in Missouri, have been unsuccessful. His pension and the Archdiocese of Seattle pay for his stay in the treatment center.

In the lawsuits, the men, most of whom sued anonymously, said the abuse occurred in the late '60s, '70s and early '80s, when McGreal served in a hospital and in parishes in Renton, Olympia and Seattle.

They said he preyed on them as altar boys, showed them pornography, plied them with church wine and kissed, fondled and had sex with them. His alleged victims ranged from fourth-graders to 12-year-olds. In many cases, the alleged abuse lasted for years.

Court documents offer a glimpse into a 20-year period beginning in the late '60s, when parents began complaining to archdiocesan officials that McGreal had molested their children or acted inappropriately.

One parent told the chancellor -- the bishop's chief aide -- that McGreal was acting inappropriately in a sexual way with young boys sometime between the late '60s and early '70s. Another parent told a different chancellor that McGreal had made sexual advances toward a son, a prospective seminarian, causing him to forgo the seminary.

The complaints prompted the archdiocese to send McGreal to at least five counselors. Each time he returned from counseling, the archdiocese kept him in ministry but limited his duties and tried to restrict his access to children and young men. But the complaints about McGreal continued to mount.

"Back at that time, (Hunthausen) didn't have a full understanding of the treatability of these issues," said Mike Patterson, the archdiocese's lawyer. But he said Hunthausen had sought the "very best treatment" he could find for McGreal, as soon as he learned about McGreal's behavior in 1977. Hunthausen had also assigned McGreal to a "very strong priest" to supervise him when he returned.

"We were being assured that this was a treatable condition," he said. Hunthausen, who retired in 1991 and is now living in Montana, could not be reached for comment.

Patterson also cast doubt on the number of people McGreal has admitted to molesting. He said the therapist who treated McGreal talked to some of his alleged victims, who denied the abuse. Patterson said fewer than 20 people have told the archdiocese they were abused by McGreal.

Patterson said the archdiocese didn't report McGreal to police until the late '80s.

He said there had been no law requiring the church to report child abuse back then and that Hunthausen had relied on treatment providers to report the abuse.

Prosecutors declined to file charges, in part because the statute of limitations had expired, Patterson said. McGreal was never charged with a crime.

Hunthausen first sent McGreal to a Catholic-run treatment center in Washington, D.C. When McGreal returned to Seattle, the center supervisor warned that McGreal should not be around young boys. But Hunthausen put McGreal at St. Anthony in Renton, a parish with one of the largest schools in the archdiocese.

While at St. Anthony, McGreal molested a boy for four years, beginning when he was a 12-year-old, according to the alleged victim, who is one of the plaintiffs.

In 1982, the archdiocese moved McGreal to Providence Hospital in Everett, thinking he wouldn't be around young boys. But a church official who knew about McGreal's past discovered two young boys at McGreal's apartment and was "horrified," according to a summary of his testimony.

While serving as a hospital chaplain, the archdiocese allowed McGreal to visit a small, Catholic farming community in Oregon, where he served in a church with another priest. While there, he met a boy whom he molested, according to the alleged victim, who is another plaintiff.

In 1985, McGreal "groped" a child who was a patient at Providence, according to court documents. The archdiocese again sent him to a therapist. He was then moved to Queen of Angels Parish in Port Angeles, where he was caught trying to take young boys in his car to Seattle, the court documents say.

McGreal's pedophilia finally became public knowledge in 1988, when a woman told a news show that McGreal had sexually molested her brothers, who in turn molested her.

"It's the plaintiffs' position that the archdiocese should have done more to protect children, and the jury will ultimately make that decision this fall," said plaintiffs attorney Michael Pfau.

By the time McGreal resigned from St. Theresa Parish in Federal Way, much damage had been done.

"While he molested me, I would try to think of other things to pass the time," a plaintiff said in court records. He said McGreal abused him when he was an altar boy at St. Catherine Parish in Seattle.

He said he and other altar boys used to have to walk down a long corridor after Mass, and that McGreal would block their exit to abuse them.

"I feel like I have struggled with issues I should not have in life and have had difficulty having meaningful relationships with men, including my family," he said in a court document.

"I have been suicidal and I have struggled with rage. I feel I suffer from an overall feeling of emptiness and the inability to be happy."

P-I reporter Vanessa Ho can be reached at 206-448-8003 or


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