Two More Say They Were Abused by Priest Spokane Diocese Admits Fielding New Allegations against Sondergeld

By Virginia de Leon
Spokesman Review
June 11, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane has heard from three people who say they were abused by the late Joseph Sondergeld, a priest who worked in the diocese until 1951.

One of the alleged victims is Michael Ross of Spokane, who filed a lawsuit Monday claiming he was molested by Sondergeld when he was 12 years old.

Ross, who said he was abused in Yakima in 1967 and 1968, is suing both the Spokane and Yakima dioceses.

On Tuesday, the Rev. Steve Dublinski, vicar general of the Spokane Diocese, acknowledged that two other victims besides Ross have come forward since last November.

''We have recent allegations that Joseph Sondergeld abused at least two victims while in the Spokane Diocese in the 1940s," Dublinski wrote in an e-mail.

Based on information from the Yakima Diocese, Dublinski noted that other complaints have surfaced since Ross came forward with information about the alleged abuse committed against him.

In his e-mail, Dublinski also confirmed that Sondergeld, who died in 1969, was one of six deceased priests who have been accused of abuse. Until Tuesday, the diocese has refused to identify any of these accused men, saying they were no longer a threat.

Filed in Spokane County Superior Court, Ross' lawsuit claims both the Spokane and Yakima dioceses had known for more than 40 years that Sondergeld was a sexual predator. Instead of warning parents and reporting him to police, bishops and church officials repeatedly moved him to different locations and ''permitted Sondergeld to prey upon unsuspecting children," the suit stated.

Dublinski said that although the diocese has received recent complaints against Sondergeld, ''there is no earlier record of any complaints against Sondergeld while he served in the Spokane Diocese. ... Our review of the records showed no complaints against him during his service in the Spokane Diocese."

One of the alleged victims who came forward in November told the diocese that he wanted to be left alone and didn't want his name publicized, Dublinski said.

Sondergeld was ordained in 1916 and worked as a parish priest throughout the Spokane Diocese - Oroville, Okanogan, Pomeroy, Uniontown and Prosser. When the Yakima Diocese was formed in 1951, Sondergeld remained in Prosser as part of the new diocese and was a priest of that diocese until his death in 1969.

After Ross and his attorneys filed the lawsuit Monday, Dublinski and Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla declined to discuss whether or not there were other allegations concerning Sondergeld.

Their refusal to release information hurts victims and irks their supporters, said Val Pember, one of the founders of the local branch of Voice of the Faithful - a Catholic lay group formed in response to the church abuse scandal.

''We don't believe anything the diocese says anymore," she said. ''Why can't we have the truth out there?"

The local VOTF - which has a mailing list of about 60 people that includes a few priests and nuns - will join Ross and other victims during an 11 a.m. news conference today in front of the Spokane Diocese's office downtown.

In an open letter to Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, members of VOTF claimed the church has failed to reach out to victims by continually refusing to tell the truth.

The letter also suggests that priests within the diocese have been sworn to silence; that church lobbyists were paid to derail bills in the Legislature that would have supported victims and protected children; and that parishioners have been kept in the dark.

In previous interviews, Skylstad has continuously pledged to seek input from the laity, reach out to victims of clergy sex abuse and ensure children's safety.

On Tuesday, Dublinski encouraged other victims to contact him or Gene DiRe, the diocese's victims assistant coordinator.


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