Former Omak Mission Children Sue State over St. Mary's Sex Abuse Case

By K.c. Mehaffey
Wenatchee World
November 23, 2011

OMAK Eight former foster children who claim they were sexually abused by a priest at St. Mary's Mission in Omak decades ago are suing Washington state for sending them to the American Indian boarding school and not tracking their well-being.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Thurston County Superior Court, says the children were all abused in the 1950s, '60s and '70s by Rev. John Morse and others at the Jesuit mission.

The abuse ranges from fondling to sodomy and rape.

Morse is among the priests named in a $166 million settlement in March between the Northwest Jesuits and hundreds of abuse victims. Attorneys for the victims say more than 100 children were sexually abused at St. Mary's Mission, and Morse is the subject of more than 75 prior abuse claims and lawsuits. He has denied the claims and currently lives under constant supervision in a Jesuit retirement home near Spokane.

The lawsuit says that the state Department of Social and Health Services appointed Morse as foster parent or guardian for five of the children. All eight children were under the state's care, yet the state never visited the mission to be sure they were being properly cared for, and never investigated indications that abuse was occurring, their attorneys said.

"We have testimony, not only from clients but from employees of the mission, that the state very rarely, if ever, set foot on the grounds of the mission to inquire about the safety of these children," said Yakima attorney Bryan Smith.

The lawsuit also says that the state was notified about the sexual abuse occurring at St. Mary's Mission, but failed to investigate the claims.

DSHS spokesman John Wiley said state lawyers have not yet seen the lawsuit, and when they did, they would file a response through the courts.

Smith said DSHS did not keep records on complaints back into the '60s, "But we do have court records which we found showing they were placed in the special care of Father John Morse, one of the most prolific pedophile abusers in the history of the state," he added.

Smith said all the victims, who live in Washington and Montana, filed claims against the state in July 2010, seeking more than $5 million in damages. The state never responded.

A news release from Tamaki Law, which filed the suit, said one victim identified as T.B., now 54, said the sexual abuse began when she was six years old, in first grade, and continued for eight years. The lawsuit claimed multiple incidents of fondling, inappropriate touching, sodomy and sexual intercourse.

When one of her friends in the dorm died, she became terrified that the same thing would happen to her if she told of the abuse, she said. "To this day, I remain in fear of Morse. He remains a powerful and fearful presence," she said in a news release.

Smith said that the attorneys are investigating the student's death, and do not yet know if it was related to the abuse.

"That's one thing we intend to do in the lawsuit, is to find answers to some of these questions," he said.

Another victim, now 53, said he was sent to Morse's office when he was in fourth grade. "There were two little girls on his lap. He got up and hugged me and started stroking me," the victim, identified as D.P., said in the news release. He claimed sexual, physical and emotional abuse by both Morse and Jim Gates, who worked at the mission, which included multiple incidents of fondling, inappropriate touching and sodomy.


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