Lawsuits Allege Abuse by Priests
Claims against Spokane Diocese Focus on Old Chewelah School

By Benjamin Shors and Kevin Blocker
Spokesman Review [Spokane WA]
January 21, 2004

Editor's note: This story contains graphic information that might be offensive to some readers.

For more than 50 years, Joe Newbury hid his secret.

In the early 1950s, as a small and timid student at St. Mary's school in Chewelah, Wash., Newbury was repeatedly sexually abused by the late Father Joseph Knecht, a lawsuit filed late Tuesday alleges.

Twice a week, a Catholic nun would remove the junior high student from his class and send him to Knecht's living quarters, forcing him to take a circuitous route so that he would not be seen, the lawsuit states.

In the kitchen, Knecht would fondle Newbury's genitals, kissing and hugging him in 30-minute sessions, the lawsuit states. Newbury said he was abused twice a week for two years.

Though his grades plummeted, he told no one.

"People don't understand," said Newbury, a 63-year-old retired school principal. "A priest was untouchable."

Last month, the diocese publicly released Knecht's name as someone who was credibly accused of sex abuse acts against a boy.

On Tuesday, Newbury made his name public, one of 12 plaintiffs who filed two lawsuits against the Spokane Catholic Diocese, both relating to the now-defunct Chewelah school.

A second lawsuit against retired Rev. James O'Malley, 84, includes men from rural Chewelah, who allege they were abused in the 1940s and '50s.

One of the alleged victims became a state patrol officer. Another became a sex offender himself. Several were drafted and sent to Vietnam.

"They all shared this terrible secret, thinking they were the only ones," said Tim Kosnoff, one of two Seattle attorneys representing the men. "They buried it. They thought they could go on with their lives.

But, "It's a wound that never heals," Kosnoff said.

The Rev. Steve Dublinski, diocese vicar general, said the lawsuits are not a surprise because Bishop William Skylstad had urged parishoners in a Dec. 26 letter to come forward if they had been victims of abuse.

"He believes strongly that for all victims a healing process can only begin by confronting these tragedies in one's past," Dublinski said.

"The bishop has apologized again and again to all those so terribly wronged by priests who violated their oaths and their duties to personally reflect the values Christ stood for in his life," Dublinski said.

In response, Kosnoff said the diocese has been the most responsive when it has been challenged in lawsuits.

"In all this, this bishop (Skylstad) has not come clean and told us what he knew and when he knew it," Kosnoff said.

As for the 12 plaintiffs in the latest lawsuits, attorney Duane Rasmussen said two different representatives from the diocese have extended apologies to the men on behalf of Skylstad.

Rasmussen said that to his knowledge, Skylstad has offered to speak one-on-one with only one plaintiff, identified as "John Doe."

Knecht was a priest in the Spokane Diocese from 1932 to 1956. He served at St. Augustine in Spokane from October 1932 to November 1933; in Waterville, Wash., from November 1933 to September 1937; and in Chewelah from 1937 until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1956, at age 56, records say.

Newbury and "John Doe," were students and altar boys who attended St.

Mary's Church and school in the 1940s and 1950s, say court papers. The lawsuit alleges that Knecht sexually assaulted at least seven boys.

The attacks took place in the church rectory, the church vestibule, the cloaking room, on school grounds and in Knecht's car, the lawsuit states.

"The sexual abuse was often cruel and sadistic," it states.

"John Doe" says in the lawsuit that Knecht pinned him against a kitchen sink and scrubbed his penis with a toothbrush until it bled. On several other occasions, the lawsuit states, Knecht kissed and fondled him.

Knecht often said he had to touch the boys to see if they were "keeping themselves clean" and whether their genitals were "developing properly," according to the lawsuit.

As for the lawsuit against O'Malley, Dublinski said the diocese removed O'Malley when allegations of abuse were brought to the attention of officials in January 1962. That's when church officials ordered O'Malley to undergo treatment and therapy, according to Dublinski.

According to diocesan records, O'Malley left Chewelah in January 1962.

However, he was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in Spokane in September the same year. He then worked at Holy Rosary in Rosalia, Wash., until 1969. He was at St. John Vianney until 1980, followed by nine years of service at St. Paschal - two Spokane Valley parishes with grade schools.

No known complaints were made against O'Malley to church officials after his treatment in 1962, Dublinski said. O'Malley was identified in the fall of 2002 by Skylstad as an alleged abuser.

Kosnoff recently returned from a trip to Ireland where he located O'Malley.

Kosnoff said the retired priest wouldn't talk to him.

The lawsuit against O'Malley includes pictures of O'Malley's home in Ireland.

"O'Malley currently resides in the comfortable retirement in an idyllic Irish village of Kilsallagh, Westport, County Mayo on scenic waterview property located at the foot of the Croagh Patrick, a Catholic religious shrine and the second highest mountain in Ireland," according to the lawsuit.

Kosnoff said a real estate agent estimated the home is worth about $1 million.


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