Longtime Seattle police victim advocate was accused of child sex abuse while he was a priest
By Asia Fields
February 5, 2020
Before Garry Boulden was a victim advocate with the Seattle Police Department — guiding victims and their families through the aftermath of tragedies — he was a Catholic priest in Spokane, where he was accused of molesting a child.
The accusation wasn’t public when Boulden was hired 31 years ago but the department knew of it by at least 2003, when Spokane police investigated a report of possible child sex abuse by Boulden in the 1970s and ’80s. That investigation didn’t go forward at the alleged victim’s request, and no charges were filed.
The accusation became public knowledge in 2004 when the woman sued the Spokane Diocese, which settled with her and more than 100 other people who filed unrelated lawsuits in bankruptcy. A search for Boulden’s name online now brings mixed results: those about his work with homicide victims’ families next to articles about the lawsuit and his name on the Spokane Diocese’s and Seattle Archdiocese’s lists of credibly accused priests.
Seattle police had provided little information to The Seattle Times, which began to ask about the accusation in December. But on Monday, a week after prominent Seattle Catholics called for more transparency around clergy abuse, Chief Carmen Best asked the department’s Office of Police Accountability to investigate the accusation. In a letter to that office, she said the department had reviewed it in the past and found it didn’t meet the threshold for criminal charges or termination, but that she “cannot rest on that prior review alone.”
Boulden, now 70, denies the allegation. He will be on administrative leave during the investigation, according to the department.
Boulden is one of thousands of clergy members on dioceses’ lists across the country — that number includes 81 on Seattle’s, 30 on Spokane’s and 21 on Yakima’s — many of whom were never criminally prosecuted. An Associated Press investigation last year found that hundreds are working with vulnerable groups like children and sexual-assault survivors.
Boulden works with the families of homicide victims, according to the department, and Best said she is not aware of any concerns about his interactions with them. Boulden recently received an award from the department for his work, Best said, describing him as compassionate and professional.
“That said, I believe we have a moral and professional obligation to revisit these allegations, leveraging all of the advancements that law enforcement has made in its efforts to get to the truth, often buried, of past wrongs,” Best wrote.
Boulden declined to discuss the accusation when reached by phone. His attorney, Anne Bremner, who has represented accused priests in the past, said she believes Boulden got “swept up” in the Spokane Diocese’s efforts to settle cases and that the diocese declared priests “credibly accused” without thorough investigations.
“He didn’t do anything to begin with. He’s lived the perfect life,” Bremner said, after reading off a list of awards Boulden received and people he’s helped, including victims of the January downtown shooting and the families of victims who were raped and killed in several high-profile cases.
Mike Pfau, one of the attorneys who represented the woman who sued, said she was “highly credible.”
“It’s very convenient 15 years after the lawsuit to say that because the diocese filed for bankruptcy and all the cases were settled, that the accusations were not credible,” Pfau said.
The Spokane Diocese said the accusation was deemed credible through the bankruptcy process. The Seattle Archdiocese did not receive any additional accusations against Boulden, who had done occasional ministry in Seattle, according to a spokeswoman. But its clergy-abuse review board also determined the Spokane accusation to be credible.
This concerns some advocates for sexual-assault survivors.
“I understand that there was not criminal action taken, but that’s a pretty low bar,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “This is a matter of public trust. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t hire him, but you don’t put him in a position where he’s working with vulnerable victims.”
Stone said that while she believes people can change, “victim advocates are dealing with people in times of acute crisis and vulnerability,” which requires a high level of trust.
From Spokane to Seattle
Boulden was ordained in Spokane in 1977, according to the diocese. At the age of 28, he was assigned to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish to replace Patrick O’Donnell, one of the most notorious abusive priests in the region who KING 5 recently found lives near schools in Mount Vernon.
According to the lawsuit later filed against him, Boulden, the assistant pastor and youth leader at the parish, gained the trust of a 12-year-old girl who attended the parish’s school, as well as her parents.
“By virtue of those relationships, Boulden gained the opportunity to be alone with the plaintiff so that he could rape and sexually molest her,” the lawsuit said.
Pfau would later tell the diocese Boulden sexually abused the girl from about 1976 to 1981, according to a 2004 Spokesman-Review article.
The lawsuit claimed the head pastor, Monsignor John Donnelly, was informed of the abuse but did not report it and asked why the girl wanted to “threaten the career of a fine young priest.” When asked about this by The Spokesman-Review in 2004, Donnelly said he couldn’t respond because he was recently treated for short-term memory loss. He died in 2005.
Boulden left the parish in 1981 and, according to court filings by the Spokane Diocese, spent the next two years moving among rural parishes: Immaculate Conception in Oroville and Holy Rosary in Tonasket, both in Okanogan County; and Immaculate Conception in Republic, Ferry County. Through Bremner, Boulden said he was filling in for priests at those parishes during that time.
He moved to Seattle in 1983 and continued occasional ministry at Immaculate Conception and St. John in Seattle in 1992, according to the Seattle Archdiocese. He was listed as on leave in the Catholic Directory listing priests’ assignments.
Boulden spent some time working in the Mayor’s Office for Senior Services, according to a 1987 Seattle Times article. He was hired by Seattle police in 1989.
Seattle police human resources director Mike Fields said he did not have information about the background-check process done on Boulden then, but the department now asks applicants about criminal history and whether they committed crimes for which they were not caught.
Allegation comes to light
Boulden served as the victim-advocate supervisor from 1997 to November 2002, when he returned to his position as victim advocate, according to the department. The department said the move was voluntary, and Boulden said through Bremner that it was because of budget cuts.
The Spokane Diocese said it received information about the allegation against Boulden in 2002, which it shared with Spokane police and the city of Seattle, according to a spokesman. Diocese officials also said they also heard about the alleged abuse from Pfau around the same time, according to The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
Then-Bishop William Skylstad removed Boulden from ministry soon after, according to a diocese spokesman.
The Spokane Police Department received a report in February 2003 of possible child sexual abuse involving Boulden in the 1970s and ’80s. According to the police report, a woman said she was speaking to two other women about sexual abuse and that one described an act of molestation she said Boulden committed. The woman told a deacon, who told the Spokane Diocese’s vicar general, who reported it to police.
When a detective reached the woman who said Boulden abused her, she said she had shared the information in confidence and didn’t mean for it to get out, according to the police report obtained by The Seattle Times. The detective suspended the investigation and spoke to a Seattle police captain, agreeing to send along any further reports about Boulden.
No other reports of sexual misconduct by Boulden were filed with law enforcement in King, Spokane or Snohomish counties, according to public-records requests filed by The Times. Records from the state Department of Health show no disciplinary action against Boulden, who has a mental-health counselor license.
The woman sued the Spokane Diocese the following year, identifying Boulden as a Seattle police employee.
The diocese said in court filings that it lacked sufficient information to confirm or deny the accusation against Boulden and denied knowing of the alleged abuse. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount as part of the diocese’s $48 million bankruptcy reorganization plan, which it agreed to in 2007.
The plan called for the diocese to list names of known abusers on its website and for Bishop Skylstad to visit the parishes they served to identify them. Skylstad declared Boulden credibly accused in 2007. His name was on the Spokane list first released in 2009 and the Seattle list first released in 2016.
Best’s referral of Boulden to the OPA came a week after prominent Seattle Catholics — including former U.S. attorney John McKay, former Seattle assistant police chief Clark Kimerer and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes — called for a review of the Seattle Archdiocese’s secret clergy-abuse files.