Lawsuit Alleges Sex Abuse 50 Years Ago

By Jeremy Pawloski
The Olympian
January 22, 2008

A 65-year-old Seattle man says in a lawsuit that he was sexually abused in the 1950s by a Catholic priest at the former Saint Martin's High School in Lacey.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court. The plaintiff, identified in the suit only by his initials T.M., also alleges that two members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers sexually abused him at Briscoe School, a defunct Catholic boarding school in Kent.

Among the defendants named in the lawsuit were the Catholic archbishop of Seattle; the Congregation of Christian Brothers; Saint Martin's Abbey; and Saint Martin's University.

Jennifer Fellinger, a spokeswoman for Saint Martin's University, said Tuesday that the school and Abbot Neal Roth do not have an immediate comment because they haven't seen the lawsuit.

Fellinger said that the priest who's accused, Father Leonard Feeney, died in 1980. She said she does not know how he died.


Mike Patterson, an attorney for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said Tuesday that the Archdiocese has nothing to do with Saint Martin's Abbey or Saint Martin's University. Fellinger confirmed that Saint Martin's Abbey is managed by the Order of Saint Benedict.

The Archdiocese of Seattle did not manage or administer Briscoe School, which closed in 1970, Patterson said.

The archdiocese did own the property where the Briscoe School was, but it was run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. A spokesperson for the Christian Brothers could not be located Tuesday night.

Patterson added that it is difficult to investigate lawsuits in which the allegations happened 50 years ago, because some of the people involved might be dead, and there might no longer be records of people's employment.

According to the suit:

T.M. was 12 and in seventh grade when the abuse by the Christian Brothers started in 1955. The brothers, identified in the suit as Brother Duffy and Brother Ryan, were some of T.M's teachers. The abuse is alleged to have occurred in Brother Duffy's room, in the Briscoe Home Farm and at a nearby grove, as well as in Canada during a school trip and during outings to property near Angle Lake owned by the Briscoe School.

T.M. began attending Saint Martin's High in 1959 and lived in a dorm there.

T.M. alleges that Feeney sexually abused him for about 11/2 years while he was in ninth and 10th grades and that the abuse occurred in a sacristy, a room for keeping vestments; Feeney's room; T.M.'s dorm room; the recreation room at the high school; and in the woods surrounding the school.

The lawsuit alleges that T.M. was "groomed" to obey his abusers and conditioned to respect them as people of authority in "spiritual, moral and ethical matters." The high school at Saint Martin's University in Lacey closed in 1974.

"Within the past year, Plaintiff has begun to understand that many problems he has had in his life, and continues to have, were caused by the Christian Brothers and Father Feeney sexually abusing him as a boy," the suit reads.

Attorney James Rogers of Seattle, who is representing T.M., said he still has to learn what church authorities knew about the alleged abuse.

"Defendants knew or should have known that plaintiff's perpetrators were pedophiles, and despite such knowledge, the defendants negligently retained and failed to adequately supervise plaintiff's perpetrators in their positions of trust and authority," the suit states.

When asked about the delay in filing the suit, Rogers said he can't speak about his client specifically, but in general, it is not uncommon for victims to not address their childhood sexual abuse until later in life.

"It takes a lot of time for them to come forward or recognize the effect of the abuse," he said.

The suit asks for unspecified damages.


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