Defrocked Seattle Priest Accused of Abuse in Lawsuit
Clergyman Suspected of Molesting Others

By Levi Pulkkinen
Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Seattle WA]
March 10, 2007

A former parishioner is suing the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese for allegedly allowing a Maple Leaf-neighborhood priest to sexually abuse him.

In documents filed Friday in King County Superior Court, the alleged victim claimed that the Rev. James Knelleken molested him numerous times 50 years ago. The alleged victim was 13 at the time.

"I've lived with this for 50 years, and it's just killing me," said the alleged victim, identified in court documents only as J.P.

A former Seattle man accuses Father James Knelleken of abusing him 50 years ago. Knelleken died in 2003.

He declined to give his name during an interview with the Seattle P-I. His attorney, Mary Fleck, was present during the phone interview and confirmed his identity.

Knelleken was removed from the ministry in 1988 and later defrocked because of suspicions that he was sexually abusing children in the church, said archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni.

"I would offer our regret that this occurred," Magnoni said Friday on hearing of the lawsuit. "We'll work with the victim to the best of our ability to reach a settlement in this case."

Knelleken, who died in 2003, allegedly started "grooming" J.P. after meeting the boy at a Catholic youth group dance at St. Catherine of Siena Church.

In the months that followed, Knelleken then had sexual relations with J.P., according to court documents.

"He was telling me that just because he was a priest ... he was still a human being, and he still had feelings for people," J.P. said. "In the fifth month or so, I just started feeling bad. I just got a feeling that it was wrong."

J.P. said he cut off ties with Knelleken, over the priest's objections.

After the abuse was over, J.P. withdrew. He said he gave up a paper route and his Cub Scout troop. He started joyriding, making little kinds of trouble.

In his entire adult life, he said, a day hasn't passed when he didn't think of the abuse.

"I think about this 20, 30, 40 times a day," the Chelan County resident said. "It's my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning."

Knelleken died at 76, after serving as pastor at churches in Bremerton, Raymond and Seaview, according to an obituary.

Knelleken was among 49 Western Washington priests included in a 2004 archdiocese investigation into decades-old allegations of sex abuse, Magnoni said.

Investigators didn't offer any judgment on Knelleken's case or 35 others in which the suspected priest had died, resigned or moved away. Nine priests were eventually sanctioned or defrocked by the Vatican.

As of last year, the archdiocese had settled more than 200 sexual-abuse claims and paid out more than $20 million in damages, Magnoni said.

In his lawsuit, J.P. argues that the archdiocese helped conceal Knelleken's alleged pedophilia and failed to warn parishioners about the priest.

No specific financial claim for damages has been made. J.P. said what he wants most is an apology from the church.

Magnoni said that's something Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett is willing to extend.

"Our archbishop has reached out to victims," he said. "And I'm sure he will in this case."

P-I reporter Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or


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