Lawsuit Accuses 2 Former Toppenish Priests of Sexually Abusing Child
By Emily Goodell
September 25, 2018
A lawsuit accuses two former Toppenish priests of sexually abusing a child over nearly a decade in the 1950s and 1960s.
The lawsuit, filed against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima and St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Toppenish, alleges that two priests sexually, physically and emotionally abused a woman identified as L.L. for much of her childhood.
L.L. was 5 years old when a priest at the church — who was not identified by the woman’s attorneys — began to sexually abuse her, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Yakima County Superior Court.
“The priest gave (her) chewing gum and candy in order to gain her trust before sexually abusing (her),” the lawsuit says. “The perpetrator, the unidentified parish priest, would take (her) to his private office where he would then proceed to touch (her) bare legs, caress her body and rub his fingers on (her) vagina.”
The lawsuit alleges that on multiple occasions, the priest performed oral sex on L.L. while masturbating beneath his robes. The frequency of the sexual abuse intensified when she entered the third grade and ended in 1959 or 1960, when the priest left the parish, according to the lawsuit.
When Rev. Michael J. Simpson arrived as the new parish priest, he continued the abusive patterns of his predecessor, the lawsuit alleges. Simpson digitally penetrated L.L.’s vagina and when she was a fifth-grader, he repeatedly raped her, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says that when L.L. was 12 years old, she had a miscarriage after Simpson impregnated her. The abuse continued until L.L. left the parish at 14 years old, according to the lawsuit.
L.L. is the fifth woman to file a lawsuit accusing Simpson of child sexual abuse. In 2008 the Catholic Diocese of Yakima paid $200,000 to settle lawsuits brought by four women who alleged that they were sexually abused by Simpson when they were children in the 1960s.
The suit notes the abuse “caused injuries, harms and losses with the Plaintiff has not understood, dealt with, or connected to the abuse until recently.”
The lawsuit said church officials “knew or should have known” that the unnamed priest and Simpson had a propensity “to engage in sexual acts with minor children and that the children he came into contact with, including (the girl), were being molested, exploited and/or abused.”
The Rev. Robert Siler, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, said Tuesday that to his knowledge, the diocese received no complaints about Simpson and had no knowledge of any abuse by the priest prior to the lawsuits.
“My recollection is that there’s nothing in our files to indicate that the bishop was ever informed of any abuse,” Siler said.
The lawsuit says church officials had a responsibility to protect L.L. and failed in that duty when it “negligently hired, supervised, and retained the unidentified priest and Reverend Michael Simpson, as pedophiles” and “failed to adopt policies and procedures to identify potential and actual offenders, prevent their access to children, and/or remove them from the priesthood.”
The lawsuit also says that church officials, “failed to properly investigate (the priests’) background to ascertain whether they were suitable to be placed in a position of trust and confidence among children and their families.”
When asked if the diocese conducted a background check on Simpson prior to hiring him as a priest, Siler said he did not know. He said in those days, the church hired priests directly out of seminaries, which he said were responsible for background-checking their students.
“Looking back 60 years ... I doubt there was a background check done,” Siler said.“We relied on seminaries to educate men to become priests.”
Simpson was ordained as a minister in 1960 after completing seminary in Ireland, Siler said. He said the Toppenish church was Simpson’s first assignment, and he was a priest there from September 1960 to November 1962.
Simpson went on to work in other cities in Washington for a decade: White Swan for four years, Hartline for two years, Grand Coulee for four years and briefly in Royal City before taking a leave of absence in 1973, Siler said. Simpson died in Ireland in 1977.
Siler said the diocese doesn’t know the identity of the unnamed priest. He said Simpson is the only priest at St. Aloysius that the diocese is aware of who has been accused of sexual abuse, but that he would continue to look into diocesan records to try to identify the priest.
“I think the difficulty when priests are accused of abuse is how much diligence we need to put into the case before naming somebody,” Siler said, adding that he would not disclose the names of priests at the parish during that time.
Sergio Garciduenas-Sease, the Tamaki Law attorney who filed the lawsuit on L.L’s behalf, said he and the woman have an idea who the unnamed priest is, but didn’t want to include the name without confirmation.
The lawsuit asks for special and general damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
Garciduenas-Sease said that ultimately, L.L. wants to encourage others to speak out if they’ve been sexually abused by priests. She wants to make sure the church is held accountable, he said.
“For her that accountability is extremely important. ... She’s suffered her whole entire life because of the abuse,” he said. “She’s carried this burden her entire life and it’s a burden no one should have to carry.”
Siler said the diocese is glad that L.L. came forward and plans to cooperate fully with the lawsuit.
“The abuse that’s described is horrific and we extend out sympathies to the victim,” Siler said. “We certainly would like to see justice done for the victim. ... We’ll be praying for her as we pray for all victims.”