Sex Abuse Suit Names Former Waterville Priest

By the Wenatchee World
Michelle McNiel
March 23, 2010

WATERVILLE — A former Waterville priest who died nearly 20 years ago has been accused of child sexual abuse in the early 1970s.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Yakima County Superior Court accused the Rev. Joseph Graaff of abusing a child several times in the rectory of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church of Waterville.

It is apparently the first lawsuit over alleged child sexual abuse against a Catholic priest in North Central Washington.

Seattle attorney James S. Rogers said he is representing only one person claiming to be abused by Graaff. But he said he expects the lawsuit will encourage more people to come forward.

“This person (Graaff) was in the (Waterville) community for a long time,” he said. “This kind of abuse does not happen in a vacuum. There is usually more than one victim.”

Graaff served as a priest for about 15 years in Chelan and Douglas counties. He started at St. Joseph’s Church in Wenatchee in 1955, then served in Chelan, Leavenworth, Waterville and East Wenatchee before moving to Roslyn in 1979.

He died in 1990 while serving at a church in Roslyn.

In a prepared statement, Yakima Diocese spokesman the Rev. Robert M. Siler said Diocese officials have received no other complaints alleging abuse by Graaff.

The lawsuit said that the Yakima Diocese either knew or should have known that Graaff was a pedophile but failed to adequately supervise him in his positions.

Rogers filed the lawsuit against the Diocese on behalf of a plaintiff, identified only as S.A.

Rogers declined to say whether S.A. was male or female. He said the person now lives in King County.

However, in his statement, Siler identified the plaintiff as a female.

The lawsuit states that S.A.’s family moved to Waterville in 1968 and began attending services at the Catholic church there. The abuse allegedly occurred from 1972 to 1974, when S.A. was about ages 9 to 11, the lawsuit said.

“While acting in the course and scope of his employment and agency, and using his authority and position of trust as a priest for the Diocese, Father Joseph Graaff took advantage of Plaintiff, through the grooming process and by using direct or indirect threats or promises, to engage in various sexual acts,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claims that the Diocese has knowledge of the abuse but did not seek out victims of the abuse or attempt to mitigate damage inflicted on them.

Since the 1980s, thousands of allegations of child sexual abuse have been made against Catholic priests worldwide. The Yakima Diocese has been named in 10 lawsuits, including the new one against Graaff. Eight of those lawsuits have been settled with the plaintiffs.

“It was and is well known to the Diocese that a number of Catholic priests have displayed signs and symptoms associated with pedophilia and have sexually abused minor children,” the lawsuit said.

It claims that the Diocese failed to timely adopt policies and procedures to identify potential and actual sexual offenders, prevent their access to children or to remove them from the priesthood and assist the abuse victims.

The suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages to be determined at trial.

Rogers said he has been representing people in child sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church in Washington since the early 1990s.

He said that it is not unusual for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits years after the abuse occurred.

“They may know they were abused, but they don’t make the connection between the problems they are having and the sexual abuse until many years later,” he said. “That’s the nature of child sexual abuse, particularly by a person of such power and position of trust. You can’t get much higher than a priest. It’s like God.”

Michelle McNiel: 664-7152


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