Woman Sues Bishop, Priest
Suit Claims Defamation by Skylstad after Complaint
By John Stucke
November 14, 2006
A woman has sued Bishop William Skylstad and a Catholic priest serving small towns south of Pullman over allegations that the priest possessed child pornography.
The lawsuit filed by Katherine Muzzall accuses Skylstad of defaming her two years ago in a strongly worded news release defending the Rev. Edward Marier. Muzzall claims Skylstad questioned her motives and bullied her and others from talking about Marier's pornography problems of a decade ago.
Skylstad's news release didn't refer to Muzzall by name, but she had recently been on a Spokane radio talk show discussing her concerns about Marier.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Spokane Superior Court, does not disclose a dollar demand.
Attorney Beth Bollinger said the lawsuit was filed only after an administrative claim to the diocese went unanswered and is not tied to the protracted bankruptcy case of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.
Diocesan attorney Greg Arpin called the lawsuit frivolous, saying it amounts to "legal extortion."
"It's an abuse of the legal system, and we're going to fight it," he said. "The sad part is what this does to a person's life."
Muzzall's complaint against Marier dates to 1996 when he was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Wilbur - a farming community 65 miles west of Spokane along U.S. Highway 2.
Muzzall worked as the rectory housekeeper when Marier arrived. She alleges that while stripping the bed linens one day, she found homosexual pornography in the sheets. Alarmed, she showed the materials to her mother, who was helping.
The two women contend that the pornography included images of teen boys being sexually exploited by men. Muzzall said she told Skylstad about what they found.
Skylstad agreed that the woman called but said she never said it was child pornography. The bishop also said he asked Marier about the book and was assured that it did not involved images of children.
Marier was removed from Wilbur and sent to an inpatient clinic in the Midwest. When the treatment was completed, Marier returned to Eastern Washington.
In 1999, he had what the diocese termed a relapse.
A police report dated Aug. 23, 1999, details a police walk-through of an East Sprague Avenue adult shop called Pretty Girls. In an upstairs room with the door partially open, they discovered Marier masturbating.
They handcuffed the priest, who was 50 and serving the Newport parish at the time, searched his maroon 1995 Nissan Pathfinder, and jailed him on suspicion of lewd conduct.
The citation was amended to disorderly conduct upon forfeiture of a $500 bond, and the case was closed.
Skylstad called the second episode akin to an alcohol problem, writing in the press release two years ago that "we all know there are priests so afflicted who can, and still do, perform as fine ministers."
In that October 2004 press release, Skylstad reiterated his support for Marier's service to the St. Boniface and St. Gall parishes in Colton-Uniontown. The parishes also operate the consolidated Guardian Angel/St. Boniface School.
The bishop upbraided critics, writing: "I also personally condemn in no uncertain terms the unchristian actions of slander directed toward Fr. Marier and the Diocese."
He ended the statement with a caveat to inquiring media: "I encourage the media to consult with their management and legal counsel before publishing any story on this matter."
On Monday, more than two years later, attorney Arpin said the diocese has done the right thing regarding Marier.
When the diocese learned that Muzzall contended there were children depicted in the pornography, officials reported it to Spokane police and the Lincoln County sheriff, Arpin said.
The sheriff declined to look into a matter because the allegations were eight years old, there was no evidence, and Marier had moved to a different town.
Arpin said the diocese then hired a private investigator, who found the allegations of child pornography unfounded.
When rumors persisted, and after Muzzall aired her fears about Marier on the Mark Fuhrman radio show, Bishop Skylstad issued his statement.
In the end, Arpin said Marier is a good man "with sexual issues. We're all human."
His work at the parish in Uniontown and Colton has been unaffected, Arpin said. He told parishioners of his past, and he remains a popular priest there today.
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