Church Bans Priest Accused of Abuse

By Rob Tucker
The News Tribune [Washington]
September 30, 2006

Dennis Champagne, a former priest in Lakewood and Steilacoom, has been permanently banned from public ministry, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle announced Friday.

Champagne was accused of sexually molesting a boy while serving in a Snohomish parish in 1979. The archdiocese placed him on administrative leave in June 2002, and he resigned as pastor that October. He was serving as pastor of St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Lakewood and Immaculate Conception mission in Steilacoom at the time.

Champagne, 61, has now been given the status of a priest on prayer and penance for the rest of his life.

"This is his penalty under church law," said Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the archdiocese. "It is a very serious penalty. He can do almost nothing."

Some local parishioners were upset four years ago about what happened to Champagne, and one said the archdiocese "railroaded" him. His case was somewhat unusual in that he had a single accuser.

A woman who answered the telephone at St. John Bosco Church on Friday afternoon referred calls to the Rev. Lee Hightower, the current church pastor, who wasn't available.

But Gene Warning, a member of the parish, said he and some other members still have concerns about whether Champagne was treated fairly and whether he had a chance to defend himself adequately.

"There's a number that still have resentment about what happened," he said. "Others said, 'Let's go on, it's not the end the end of the world.' And it's not."

Champagne can no longer perform marriages, cannot celebrate any public Masses, and cannot conduct funerals or perform any other public duties that a priest normally does, Magnoni said.

He can, with permission from the archbishop, celebrate Mass alone or give sacraments privately if requested, Magnoni said.

After the abuse allegation became known in 1986, the Snohomish County prosecutor was informed and the church started its investigation. Champagne was accused of molesting a boy while pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Snohomish. The boy, who was then an adult, didn't want to participate in processing the complaint at that time.

But in 2002, the man contacted the archdiocese and the complaint went forward.

After hearing testimony in the case, an Archdiocese Review Board found the accusation credible and made a recommendation to the archbishop that Champagne be permanently restricted from public ministry. The archbishop agreed and forwarded it to the Vatican for final disposition. The Vatican sent word that it agreed, Magnoni said.

Champagne's case was the last local allegation of clergy sexual abuse examined by the Archdiocese Review Board.

Champagne now lives in the Seattle area. He served as a parish priest from 1971 to 1979 before being named pastor in Snohomish, where he served until 1999. He served in Lakewood and Steilacoom for three years until he was placed on leave in 2002.

Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett said in a statement Friday that the archdiocese continues to extend counseling and support to all victims of clergy child sexual abuse. He urged anyone who has knowledge of such an offense to call the Archdiocese hot line at 1-800-446-7762.

"I again express my deep regret for the harm done to all victims of clergy child sexual abuse and extend my personal apology to them and their families," Brunett said.

Rob Tucker: 253-597-8374 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.