Ex-Spokane Priest Agrees to Pay Abuse Victims $5M

Associated Press, carried in Seattle Post-Intelligencer
November 10, 2008

SPOKANE, Wash. — The former Catholic priest involved in many of the child sex-abuse allegations in Spokane has agreed to pay his victims $5 million to avoid a civil trial that was scheduled this week.

The catch is that Patrick O'Donnell, who now lives in La Conner, doesn't have the money and his victims may never be paid.

But a lawyer for some two dozen victims says they want to put the issue behind them, and getting O'Donnell to own up to his actions will help that occur. A court hearing is set for Wednesday to record the settlement.

"I think we achieved our goal, which was to get a judgment and hopefully we can deprive him of as many assets as we can," Timothy Kosnoff, lawyer for the victims, said Monday.

O'Donnell's lawyer, John Bergman of Seattle, declined to release details of the settlement, saying documents were still being prepared.

"We want to put an end to this case," Bergman said.

O'Donnell's telephone number is unlisted and for years he has declined to talk with reporters.

O'Donnell has admitted to molesting dozens of teenage boys over three decades. He was named in 66 of the 176 claims alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Spokane Catholic Diocese, more than any other single priest.

Lawsuits filed by O'Donnell's victims were a major factor in the recent bankruptcy of the Spokane Diocese. The diocese last year reached a sweeping $48 million settlement with victims. O'Donnell did not contribute toward that settlement.

Separate lawsuits against O'Donnell remained, but this settlement means O'Donnell will never have to face his Spokane victims in court.

He was a priest in the Spokane Diocese in the 1970s and early 1980s. When parents complained about the sex abuse, he was sent quietly away for treatment and transferred to Seattle.

But police were never told, and the statute of limitations has run out so O'Donnell was never charged with crimes.

O'Donnell lives in a nice house in La Conner, but state law prevents him from losing his home or his retirement funds.

O'Donnell had already refused to testify in the civil trial, and Kosnoff said the settlement was the best that could be achieved.

O'Donnell is offering to write personal apologies to any victim who wants one, Kosnoff said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs will work to identify all of O'Donnell's assets, including any he might have transferred to other people, Kosnoff said.

"We have reason to believe that has occurred," he said.

Lawyers for the victims deposed O'Donnell on numerous occasions, and victims were able to watch those tapes. The settlement means victims won't have to discuss their cases in open court, Kosnoff said.

The lawsuits were originally filed in 2002, but were stayed while the complex bankruptcy of the Spokane Diocese was resolved.

O'Donnell still faces lawsuits filed by some people in Seattle for alleged molestations there, Kosnoff said.

O'Donnell, 66, has said in court depositions that he hasn't molested any children for two decades. He is not listed on any sex-offender registries because he has never been arrested.

O'Donnell was born in 1942 in Quincy, Ill., and moved to Spokane when he was 3. He earned a degree from Gonzaga University and joined the Army. He earned a master's degree in counseling from Gonzaga in 1971 and was later ordained a priest. By that time, he has admitted in court depositions, he was molesting boys in Spokane.

O'Donnell began therapy for his sexual conduct in the early 1970s while serving as a priest in Spokane.

Yet even while in treatment, O'Donnell continued to have sexual contact with teen boys that he didn't tell the therapist about.

O'Donnell said in the deposition that he stopped having sexual contact with boys in 1980, and removed himself from the priesthood in 1986.

After that, O'Donnell practiced psychology in the Bellevue area, treating patients age 12 and older.

He sold his home for $570,000 in March 2003, and bought the La Conner home.

The Washington state Board of Psychology began investigating O'Donnell in 2002 after complaints from some of those he victimized while he was a priest. O'Donnell surrendered his license to practice psychology in January 2004.


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