Spokane Diocese Faces New Allegations of Past Abuse
Bishop Says Allegations Have Surfaced against Two Priests

By Jonathan Martin
Spokesman Review [Spokane WA]
August 15, 2002

A series of new allegations is forcing the Spokane Catholic diocese to confront past cases of sexual abuse.

About seven people have contacted the diocese in the last five months to accuse two priests who served in diocese parishes, Bishop William Skylstad says.

At least three of the complaints involve the Rev. Patrick O'Donnell, a priest who was removed from the St. John Vianney parish in the mid-1980s because of a history of alleged child molestation.

Sklystad declined to name the second priest who, unlike O'Donnell, was not mentioned in previous media coverage.

In addition, three other complaints have surfaced against priests outside the Spokane diocese, including one monsignor from Yakima who is now dead, said Skylstad and one of the priest's alleged victims.

All of the complaints are at least 10 years old, and none involved active priests, said Skylstad, who spent Wednesday praying for atonement for the church's handling of sexual abuse by priests.

"I'm really glad this is surfacing and coming out, so we can help people who've been abused," he said. "These are very difficult to deal with, especially when you see people's lives that have been torn apart."

Skylstad said the church assumed all allegations were credible, given the histories of those being accused. His staff has offered counseling, and encouraged victims who want compensation to contact an attorney.

"We don't want to be accused of doing something under the table," he said.

Skylstad believes his church's recent national scandal - which started with abuse allegations in Boston - has emboldened victims to come forward.

In response to the scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a policy in June that bars priests from the ministry after a single act of abuse, mandates reports to police and strongly discourages the confidential settlements that have quieted victims for years.

Skylstad is vice president of the group and has promoted reforms to protect victims.

He has sent none of the most recent complaints to local law enforcement.

"The statute of limitations have long since run out," he said.

That's a mistake, said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"Many, many times, church leaders have made these determinations and they turn out to be incorrect," Clohessy said.

Criminal charges in Washington can be filed 10 years after an incident of child sexual abuse, or until the victim is 21, although the state law has often changed.

The diocese's attorney, Michael Geraghty, met with Spokane Prosecutor Steve Tucker last week to discuss how to pass along referrals in the future. Neither returned calls on Wednesday.

Among the new complaints is one from a Spokane man, who told the diocese that an elderly monsignor in Yakima repeatedly molested him in the late 1960s.

The man said Wednesday that recent counseling released forgotten memories of the abuse. He agreed to be identified only as Michael R.

The monsignor, who died in 1969, served in parishes in Colton, Uniontown and Prosser. Skylstad said the diocese had no records of abuse allegations, but didn't discount the man's claim.

"In those earlier days, there wasn't as much sensitivity" to abuse reports, he said.

Michael R. said he left the church seven years ago, and has suffered serious personal problems as he began recalling the abuse.

"When Skylstad says he wants to help ... I believe him," Michael R. said.

"But saying sorry isn't enough."

The new complaints in Spokane dredge up one of the few known cases of sex abuse in the diocese.

O'Donnell, who also was a psychologist, was removed as St. John Vianney's priest in 1985 after the Washington Board of Psychology Examiners restricted his license for "grossly immoral acts."

The church, however, appeared to learn of O'Donnell's acts in 1976, when he was granted a sabbatical from Assumption parish at the same time he received therapy for "a propensity to promote sexual communication between himself and adolescent male children," according to the psychology board.

He later became pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Rosalia, among others.

In 1986, he was quoted as an expert on pedophilia in a Spokesman-Review story on criminal molestation charges against a Louisiana priest, Lane Fontenot, who'd been transferred to Spokane.

O'Donnell was quoted as saying he didn't know of any cases of pedophilia in the Spokane Diocese. Local psychologists immediately protested, noting his own history.

A subsequent story detailed O'Donnell's history.

Skylstad said he didn't know where O'Donnell was today, but that he was no longer an active priest. However, his psychology license is still valid.

O'Donnell's brother in Spokane declined to comment.

The diocese is gathering its records on O'Donnell and the second Spokane-area priest. Skylstad said the diocese may have to locate its insurance carrier from the 1980s, should victims ask for money.

Attorney Jeffry Finer has been involved in similar negotiations. He pressed a lawsuit against the church on behalf of a 16-year-old boy molested by the principal of St. Patrick's School in Hillyard in 1995.

The church's insurance adjuster "seemed to carry no moral shock or disbelief whatsoever," said Finer. "He treated it in such a banal way, it was surprising."

Finer is not surprised that new complaints are surfacing so long after the alleged incidents. "There is a fear amongst victims and victims' families of who would believe such a claim," he said.

"It's really tough to do," Finer said. "You can criticize any scoundrel, but shame on you for criticizing someone who is held out in public in such a high public regard."


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