Church Settles Case Involving Abuse by Late Medford Priest

By Melissa Martin
Mail Tribune
March 22, 2002

The Archdiocese of Portland settled out of court Tuesday with a 74-year-old Portland taxi driver who filed a $4 million sex abuse lawsuit against the Catholic church.

They settled for an undisclosed amount of money following a day of negotiations with mediator Sid Lezak, a former U.S. attorney.

"My client showed admirable courage in coming forward," said Kelly Clark of O'Donnell & Clark in Portland, the plaintiff's law firm.

"He is part of what we now know to be a national movement of men and women coming forward and holding priests in the church accountable for this kind of devastating child abuse. Along the way, we corroborated this priest did have these tendencies. We know this from several other witnesses, all of whom contacted us to tell us their stories. As a result of his coming forward and the settlement we reached, my client feels that justice has been done."

The taxi driver alleged that the Rev. William McLeod abused him 50 times when he was an altar boy at All Saints Parish in Portland between 1938 and 1941. Later, McLeod served at Medford's Sacred Heart Church until his death in 1969.

"The Archdiocese is pleased to have this matter resolved because litigation distracts from the church's mission, which is to spread the gospel and do good works, not spend time in court," said Tom Dulcich, attorney for the church.

It's been a painful process for Western Oregon's 297,841 Catholics, a spokeswoman said.

"These are always extraordinary painful issues for the church," said Mary Jo Tully, chancellor for the Archdiocese of Portland. "We certainly care about our children, about the community. We want to do what is right, what is correct, what is moral in all these instances."

An out-of-court settlement generally means a weak defense for the church, said the Rev. Marie Fortune of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, speaking not about this case but about church cases in general.

"Generally it means that they don't have a strong defense and believe that it will cost less to settle than to go to trial and lose," Fortune said.

The church argued that McLeod's actions did not fall under the state's definition of child abuse. Church attorneys also asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the alleged abuse took place 60 years ago by a priest who died 32 years ago.

The settlement is not an acknowledgement of the priest's guilt, the church's attorney said.

"It's just like any other case - a settlement means both sides agree to not have the dispute decided by a judge and jury," Dulcich said.

The Mail Tribune published an interview last year with a Rogue Valley man who said McLeod abused him on one occasion during religion classes in Medford. The man submitted a deposition but did not join the taxi driver's lawsuit and has no plans to file his own, he said.

A second lawsuit involving McLeod may be filed by a Willamette Valley man in the future, Clark said.

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail


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