More Sex-Abuse Suits Filed: 6 Men Say They Were Molested by Priests

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times
November 27, 2002

The fight over sexual abuse by clerics is increasingly moving into the legal arena.

Six lawsuits were filed earlier this week against the Seattle Archdiocese and three of its priests, accusing the priests of long-ago sexual abuse of minors.

The archdiocese is facing at least 13 lawsuits representing 29 people who say they were molested as minors by priests.

At the same time, a movement is intensifying to do away with statutes of limitations on when such childhood sexual-abuse lawsuits can be filed.

On Monday, civil lawsuits were filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of six men, now 35 to 43 and living in Seattle, Federal Way, California and Arizona. All were identified in the lawsuits only by their initials.

The lawsuits name the Revs. John Cornelius, John Forrester and Gerald Moffat, none of whom could be reached for comment yesterday.

Three of the accusers claim to have been molested in the 1970s when Forrester, a Benedictine, was assigned to Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle.

One claims Forrester molested him during church-related occasions and on outings from the time he was about 7 years old until he was about 14. Another claims the priest abused him from the ages of approximately 13 to 17 in the sacristy and on church-sponsored trips to Rome and the Holy Land. The third says the priest molested him from about ages 11 to 14 on church-related outings and overnight trips.

A fourth man claims he was abused around 1976 and 1977, when Forrester was assigned to All Saints Church in Puyallup. The man says he was about 10 to 11 when the alleged abuse happened.

Archdiocese officials had earlier said it had received at least four complaints about Forrester - all after he had left the Seattle Archdiocese around 1979. The lawsuits say Forrester is believed to be living in New Mexico. Plaintiffs' lawyers and archdiocese officials said yesterday they don't know if he is still in active ministry.

Another lawsuit accuses Moffat of abusing a boy in the early 1970s, from the time the boy was about 11 to 13. Moffat was assigned to Holy Family Church in Kirkland at the time. Moffat, most recently pastor at St. Hubert Church in Langley, Whidbey Island, was placed on administrative leave last summer when the archdiocese received a complaint about him.

The sixth lawsuit filed Monday claims Cornelius molested a boy who was about 14 years old during an overnight trip to Idaho in the early 1970s. Cornelius, who resigned in May after about a dozen men accused him of molesting them as minors years ago, is facing at least one other lawsuit.

Monday's lawsuits contend that archdiocese officials knew or should have known that the priests were pedophiles yet failed to adequately supervise them. All six suits seek unspecified damages.

Archdiocese officials said yesterday it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.

Before Monday's filings, the Seattle Archdiocese faced at least seven lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors by Cornelius, and the Revs. James McGreal, Jack Marsh, Barry Ashwell and Patrick O'Neill.

The suit against O'Neill was filed in October in Pierce County by a woman who accused him of sexually abusing her in the early 1960s when she was a student at St. Charles Borromeo School and a member of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Tacoma, where O'Neill was assigned. The suit says the abuse happened over the course of approximately three years, during which the girl was often left in O'Neill's care.

Efforts yesterday to reach O'Neill, believed to be retired and living in Arizona, were unsuccessful.

More such lawsuits may be filed if a statewide effort by lay Catholics and victims of clergy abuse succeeds. Former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett, along with local chapters of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and Voice of the Faithful are pushing the Legislature to eliminate all civil statutes of limitations for future abuse cases. They also want to create a one-year window in which plaintiffs may file suits no matter when the abuse occurred.

Under existing statutes of limitations, a lawsuit must be filed either within three years from the time of the last alleged act; three years from when a victim discovers or remembers that such an act happened; or three years from the time a victim realizes that it damaged his or her life.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.