Few clergy on Catholic child-sex list ever prosecuted

By Lewis Kamb
Seattle Times
January 23, 2016

St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore was one of the sites where offenders were assigned, according to the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Photo by Jim Bates

It appears only five of the 77 Catholic priests and clergy members identified this month as likely sex abusers of children have ever been brought to justice for any such crimes, according to a review of the list published by the Seattle Archdiocese.

The list, which includes names of priests and other clergy who served or lived in Western Washington since the 1920s, identifies those “for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible” following a two-year review by a consultant and an archdiocese-appointed board.

The compilation of names provides the most complete public accounting of its kind to date for the Seattle Archdiocese. But among the names of the disgraced, only five appear to have been convicted of criminal sex-abuse charges.

Just one of the five — Paul Joseph Conn, who served at a Port Angeles church in the late 1980s — was convicted in Washington.

Conn was a 36-year-old priest at the Queen of Angels church in 1988 when he admitted to molesting six altar boys between the ages of 11 and 13, court records show.

“This stuff is in my past, and that’s where I want to leave it,” Conn told a reporter last week.

Four others — Edmund Boyle, Robert Brouillette, Louis Ladenburger and George Silva — all served as clergy in Western Washington at times during their careers, but were convicted of sex crimes against children in other states.

Boyle, now deceased, retired from Mount St. Vincent in Seattle in 1984 and spent a total of about 15 years in the Seattle Archdiocese. While serving as a hospital chaplain in Nevada in 1987, he pleaded guilty to one count of lewdness with a child for exposing himself, according to news accounts and interviews.

Brouillette and Silva each was assigned to O’Dea High School in Seattle for a few years during their careers, and Ladenburger served four years at St. George Parish on Beacon Hill.

Another priest on the list — Dennis Kemp, who served at St. Monica Catholic Church in Mercer Island between 2002 and 2007 — was accused of touching an altar boy, but King County prosecutors declined to charge him.

Many cases of child sex abuse involving Catholic clergy surfaced years after the alleged crimes occurred — and beyond the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges, those familiar with the archdiocese’s review said.

“A lot of these were just not prosecuted,” said Kathleen McChesney, the consultant hired by the archdiocese’s law firm to compile the list. “The allegations were either brought after the statute of limitations, or there might not have been the proper investigations done.”

Determining exactly how many on the list have been convicted is difficult — and there may be more than five. For some offenders, a lack of information about their whereabouts or other details makes it impossible to readily find a record of criminal charges. And some cases go back decades, before court records may now be readily found.

“We don’t know what happened exactly to some of these priests,” said archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni, who knew of only one convicted priest on the list.

Mary Dispenza, Northwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said she’s not surprised so few of the clergy were prosecuted.

“No matter how many kids they assaulted, very few predator priests are ever prosecuted,” said Dispenza, herself a survivor of a priest’s sexual abuse. To increase such dismal prosecution numbers, lawmakers must “repeal the arbitrary deadlines that stop victims from exposing these predators in court and increase penalties for those who hide child sex crimes,” she said.

No more to say

Now living in Portland, Connsaid in a telephone interview last week he’s aware the Seattle Archdiocese published his name on its offenders list.

“Other people might want to talk about this, but I don’t have anything else to say about it,” he said. “It was really, really hard to build a life after all that.”

In 1988, after complaints about Conn’s behavior with altar boys surfaced, Port Angeles police confronted him. Conn “divulged he had a sexual desire for young boys for some time and confessed to touching them starting about two years earlier,” according to court records.

Conn then provided investigators with additional names of boys he’d victimized. He later pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent liberties and served two years and eight months in prison, according to the state Department of Corrections. He was barred from the priesthood following his conviction.

Boyle served at St. James Cathedral and its school in Seattle from 1955 to 1964, then left the archdiocese before working at Mount St. Vincent from 1979 to 1984. He pleaded guilty in Nevada in 1987 to one count of lewdness with a child. That charge came after Boyle exposed himself to a developmentally disabled 12-year-old boy at a Nevada hospital where he served as chaplain, according to news reports.

Although Washington’s Department of Corrections includes Boyle’s name and conviction information in its offenders database, Nevada’s corrections department couldn’t find a record for him.

Following Boyle’s death in 1995, several people who accused him of abusing them as children in Seattle decades earlier sued the archdiocese. Internal church records that emerged in court showed archdiocese officials knew Boyle had “an extensive history of sexual misconduct” with children and adults, though he was never criminally charged in Washington.

“They knew he had this history, but they still kept him here,” said Seattle attorney James S. Rogers, who represented six of Boyle’s victims.

Rogers recalled that Boyle received only probation for his conviction in Nevada.

“Overly affectionate”

The three other convicted clergy each spent a few years at schools or churches within the Seattle Archdiocese, but were convicted of sex crimes in other states.

Ladenburger, who served at St. George in Seattle from 1980 to 1984, worked in several other dioceses before leaving the priesthood in 1993. The Vatican defrocked him in 1996. He later became a mental-health counselor at a school for troubled boys in Idaho, where he was accused of molesting two boys.

He was charged with three counts of sexual battery but pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of aggravated assault against a minor. He was sentenced to up to five years in prison.

In an interview Friday, Ladenburger said that while “there were some suspicions” of him, he didn’t abuse any children in Seattle and later received treatment “for some of my interests” at another archdiocese.

“I was overly affectionate and immature, but nothing happened where I ever had to say, ‘Oops, I did this,’ ” he said. “I was in denial that I had any problem at all. I thought I was in control of it until the encounter in Idaho. That was eight years ago, and I’ve completely turned my life around since then.”

Now 78 and retired, Ladenburger said he lives near family and participates in support groups, and added that “another faith took me in and helped me see the light.”

Brouillette, a member of the Christian Brothers religious order who was assigned to O’Dea High School in Seattle from 1968 to 1970, was convicted in Illinois in 2000 on multiple counts of disseminating child pornography over the Internet, news reports say. He was sentenced to four years probation and a $2,000 fine.

Silva, who served at O’Dea High School from 1991 to 1994, pleaded guilty to federal charges in New Mexico in 2006 of transporting a 14-year-old boy out of the country to have sex with him. He received a five-year prison sentence and five years of probation.

Neither Brouillette nor Silva could be reached for comment last week.

Examining the list

The Seattle Times cross-referenced the list of clergy members to state courts and corrections data and to media reports. In certain cases, a reporter consulted with police, prosecutors, plaintiff lawyers, corrections officials or public-records officers to verify information.

The archdiocese declined to provide further identifying information for the listed clergy, including middle names and dates of birth, making it difficult to check some of the names. It also hasn’t publicly disclosed their case files.

King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Johnson, who heads the office’s Special Assault Unit, said last week she ran the archdiocese’s list of names in her agency’s database and found only one — Kemp — who had been reviewed by her office. Those allegations, which were forwarded by Mercer Island police in 2007, involved inappropriate contact with a 12-year-old altar boy.

“It did not rise to the level of a criminal offense, based upon the information we had at the time,” Johnson said.

Kemp, who was barred from active ministry in 2010, did not respond to a phone message Friday.

Deadlines for cases

In Washington, the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes against children has changed several times over the years.

“It’s so complicated that we have to double-check ourselves to make sure we calculate it correctly,” Johnson said.

Before July 2009, victims of felony sex crimes who were younger than 14 when the offense was committed had until their 21st birthday to report a crime to enable authorities to prosecute perpetrators, while 14- and 15-year-old victims had three years to report an offense to preserve a criminal case.

In 2009, the Legislature raised the deadline for every child 15 and under to a victim’s 28th birthday. Three years later, the law changed again, as the deadline for victims was raised to 30 years old, where it stands today.

The various changes do not allow previously expired cases to be revived, Johnson noted.

For sexually related misdemeanors against children, such as “communicating with a minor for immoral purposes,” the statute of limitations is two years.

Many of the allegations against clergy occurred decades ago and surfaced only after victims were well into adulthood. The Seattle Archdiocese says that if an allegation “has a semblance of truth,” church officials now notify law enforcement.

Lucy Berliner is the longtime director of Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress and serves on the Archdiocese Review Board that reviewed the list of clergy offenders. She noted the lack of prosecution of child sex offenders “isn’t just a Catholic priest thing.”

“Overall, people who molest children mostly get away with it,” she said. “Kids don’t usually come forward, or they come forward years later when it’s difficult to do anything.”

At least to do anything criminally. Since the late 1980s, the Seattle Archdiocese has paid about $74 million in civil settlements for 392 claims of sexual abuse of minors, including at least $1.1 million paid to three of Boyle’s victims.

When publishing the names of clergy perpetrators, the Archdiocese noted the list may not be complete and will “be updated as new information is received or identified.”


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