Lawsuits against Yakima Diocese Still Pending

By Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald-Republic
July 4, 2010

YAKIMA -- A group focused on exposing clergy abuse within the Catholic Church is ramping up its criticism of the Diocese of Yakima.

Two weeks ago, the Voice of the Faithful of Central Washington launched a website designed to be "a resource for those interested in protecting children and vulnerable adults in our church."

People who say they were sexually abused by clerics are also invited to tell their stories on the website (

The Voice of the Faithful said it believes the church has not been forthcoming about allegations of sex abuse by clerics here.

"There's a pattern of misinformation," said spokesman Robert Fontana. "The approach of protecting clergy hasn't changed."

Affiliated with the national group of the same name, Voice of the Faithful has long complained that the diocese has not done enough to protect children, partly because it doesn't release names of priests who have had "credible allega-tions" made against them.

The Rev. Robert Siler, chief of staff for the Yakima Diocese, took exception to the criticism.

"I do feel we're doing a good job protecting children. But there has to be a threshold met before we make a name public," Siler said Friday.

"We follow all the recommendations of the lay advisory board," which monitors abuse claims and advises diocesan abuse policy, he added.

Since the clergy abuse scandal broke nationally in Boston in 2002, the Yakima Diocese has confirmed the names of more than a dozen members of the clergy who have served in the diocese and who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse.

The diocese has paid out about $1 million in settlements to people who have alleged abuse and spent another $500,000 to $600,000 in attorney fees and counseling costs, Siler said. Most was covered by insurance.

The diocese began settling claims in the mid-1980s, for allegations of abuse that mostly date from the 1960s to early 1980s, Siler said.

Two cases were settled out of court within the past year.

A man from Tukwila, identified by the initials J.K., filed a lawsuit in January 2007 accusing two now-deceased priests, Richard O'Connor and Anthony King, of molesting him. J.K. said the abuse began in the 1960s when he was a 14-year-old student at St. Peter the Apostle Seminary in Cowiche, which has since been closed. The diocese settled the suit last January for $150,000.

A woman, Rosa Flores-Winder, brought suit against the diocese in April 2007, saying she was abused when she was about 9 years old in the 1960s by a parishioner in Sunnyside. Siler identified the man as a church volunteer but not an official of the church. The diocese settled the case for $5,000 last fall.

There are three lawsuits now pending against the Yakima Diocese:

* The Rev. Frank Duffy, a Jesuit, is the subject of a previously unreported lawsuit brought by a plaintiff identified as M.P. in Superior Court here in April. Now a resident of Benton County, she claimed she was molested in 1977 while a student at St. Joseph/Marquette School.

The Yakima Diocese previously acknowledged that Duffy was accused in 2008 of molesting four girls under the age of 10 while serving in two parishes in the Portland Archdiocese in the 1960s.

Now deceased, he served in the Yakima Diocese from 1971-89.

* The Rev. Joseph Graaff is being sued by a woman, S.A., who said she was abused as a child by Graaff in Waterville, Wash., which is part of the Yakima Diocese. The abuse allegedly occurred from 1972-74, when S.A. was about ages 9 to 11, the lawsuit said.

Graaff, who died in 1990, was ordained here in 1955. The suit was filed in March.

* Christopher Breen, a priest who served at St. Paul Cathedral, was accused of molesting a former Yakima resident when she was a teenager 40 years ago. M.C. filed a lawsuit in King County in September 2008. She contended that she was physically and sexually abused from 1968-72. Breen, who left the priesthood more than 30 years ago, served in the Yakima diocese from 1960 to 1976. He is married and lives in Western Washington.

Another lawsuit against a former Yakima priest is pending in Spokane County Superior Court.

The Rev. John J. Morse was named by at least 16 people who claim they were sexually abused by him while students at St. Mary's School near Omak. Morse served in Yakima at various times in the late 1960s, early 1970s and in 1994. He lives in Spokane and has denied all charges. No claims have been made to the Yakima Diocese about him.

Additionally, the Rev. Jose Joaquin Estrada Arango, who served in Wapato and Yakima from 2001-03, pleaded guilty in December 2003 to felony sexual abuse of a teenage girl in Morrow County, Ore., and was subsequently deported to his home country of Colombia.

Other cases with Yakima Diocese ties previously reported include:

* The Rev. Michael Simpson was the subject of lawsuits filed by four women, saying they were sexually abused by the now-deceased Toppenish priest when they were children in the 1960s. They settled their claims with the diocese for $200,000 in January 2008.

* Monsignor Joseph Sondergeld, who died in 1969, was sued by Michael Ross of Spokane, who accused the cleric of fondling Ross when he was a teenager in Yakima. It was settled for $50,000.

* The Rev. David King, a Jesuit, was accused by a man from Western Washington in a Yakima County Superior Court lawsuit in 2006 of repeatedly molesting him when he was a student at Marquette High School in Yakima (which no longer exists). King died in Spokane in 2002. The Yakima Diocese and the Jesuit Oregon Province were also named as defendants. The Yakima Diocese was subsequently dismissed from the lawsuit.

* Deacon Aarón Ramírez was under investigation for molesting a teenage boy in Zillah. Authorities said he fled to Mexico in 1999 before he could be charged.

* The Revs. Dale Calhoun and Richard Scully, accused of abusing children in the 1970s, are no longer practicing as priests. Scully is retired and Calhoun does not function as a cleric.

* The Rev. Darell Mitchell left Yakima in 2004 while under criminal investigation for having photos of nude boys, elementary age to teenagers, on his computer. About a dozen photos were turned over to police by the diocese. The FBI and police investigated, but no charges were ever filed.

Fontana, of Voice of the Faithful, said he's concerned that the diocese has been "dishonest" about the case of Mitchell, who is scheduled to begin working in an administrative position in the diocese pastoral office this summer.

"If they can't ... admit to what Mitchell did, how can we trust them in the future?" Fontana said.

He added that the diocese has never acknowledged that Mitchell was investigated by the lay advisory board for allegedly engaging in grooming behavior of boys.

Siler said Friday that a private investigator, under the supervision of the lay advisory board, looked at a variety of complaints against Mitchell. While keeping the results confidential, Bishop Carlos Sevilla decided no further action was needed, Siler said.

"No young person he (Mitchell) was involved with ever accused him of abuse," Siler pointed out.

In mid-June, the executive director of the national Voice of the Faithful, Donna Doucette, wrote Sevilla from the group's Newton, Mass., headquarters, expressing concern about Mitchell's case, urging that "a complete explanation of the reason for his removal six years ago should be clearly demonstrated."



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