47 Priests Accused of Abuse over Last 50 Years
Seattle Archdiocese Names Panel for 'Thorough Review' of 13 Cases

By Sam Skolnik
Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Seattle WA]
February 28, 2003

The Seattle Archdiocese admitted yesterday that over the past 50 years, almost 50 local and visiting clergy have been accused of sexually abusing minors.

Of the 47 total accused clergy members, 32 are current or former Seattle Archdiocese priests, according to archdiocese spokeswoman Jackie O'Ryan. The other 15 were "visiting" priests, including those from religious orders who do not have parishes in the district, she said.

Of the 32, 10 priests have since died, and nine are no longer in the priesthood, according to the archdiocese statement released late yesterday.

Although the 13 remaining cases include both retired priests and those on administrative leave, O'Ryan would not say how many fit in each category.

The cases of those 13 clergy will undergo a "thorough review" by the newly formed Special Cases Committee, a six-member panel of local church and legal notables that will determine whether the claims have merit sufficient to either bar the priest from active ministry or remove the offender from the priesthood.

Each of the 47 cases has been referred to police, O'Ryan said, but she could not say how long it took the archdiocese to contact police after the allegations were made.

The release of the list comes amid a flurry of allegations of child sexual abuse and lawsuits filed against Catholic clergy statewide. A total of 15 lawsuits have been filed by 30 individuals against the Seattle Archdiocese and eight of its priests.

In one recent case, six men filed suits in November against three priests, claiming that the clergy members "groomed" the men when they were boys and teenagers in the 1970s and '80s. The priests tried to gain their trust, the suit alleged, and then used threats and promises to coerce them into participating in various sex acts with them.

The Diocese of Spokane also has been hit with its share of lawsuits. Just last month, 10 individuals claimed that a priest named Patrick O'Donnell, who also had worked as a psychiatrist in Bellevue, was "a lifelong child molester and sexual predator of young boys."

Nationwide, the Catholic Church has been reeling since allegations of a widespread ring of molesting or raping priests was unveiled in Boston.

The Seattle Archdiocese statement did not identify any of the 47 clergy.

"Not all of these allegations have been found to be credible," O'Ryan said. "We must honor due process for those accused."

O'Ryan stressed that none of the 13 priests under investigation in the Seattle Archdiocese -- which includes 175 parishes and missions throughout 13 counties in Western Washington -- is currently active. But she said she could not account for the accused visiting priests.

"Unfortunately, they are under the jurisdiction of their home archdiocese or religious order," O'Ryan said. Although the appropriate supervising clergy were warned of the accusations, she was not sure whether or how many of those priests remained active.

There is also the possibility, O'Ryan said, that if the committee finds the allegations against the local clergy who are on leave to be meritless, the priests could return to active status -- without parishioners' ever being told of the allegations.

The six members of the committee are Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas, the Rev. John Madigan, canon lawyer Linda Robitaille, former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Mike McKay, Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe and Robert Wheeler.

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