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Apologies Not Enough, Bishop Told

Oct 9, 2002 | Spokesman Review

Compassion. Or justice.

Bishop William Skylstad, leader of the Spokane area Roman Catholics, spoke often about the former Tuesday night but was pointedly asked for the latter during a packed meeting to discuss past sexual abuse by priests in the Spokane diocese.

The meeting at St. John Vianney parish in the Spokane Valley was the third in as many weeks at area churches where Skylstad acknowledged the abuse of possibly as many as 30 children in the past 30 years by as many as five priests.

''I'll be honest with you,'' Skylstad said. ''I was appalled at the number of victims.''

Only one has been named, because allegations against him had surfaced publicly in 1986.

That former priest, Patrick O'Donnell, is named as a defendant in a Superior Court lawsuit that alleges the Spokane diocese knew he was a sexual predator for decades but that O'Donnell was allowed to serve in several parishes, including a brief stint at St. John Vianney in 1985.

As at the other sessions, the bishop apologized and asked forgiveness from the parishioners of St. John Vianney and of St. Mary's, another Valley parish where O'Donnell served as priest.

Also, as at other meetings, he spoke about growth and change in society.

''Behaviors that were not suspect 25 or 30 years ago now they are completely suspect,'' Skylstad said. ''Years ago it was a feather for a Catholic family that their son would go on a trip with Father. Now we know that is fraught with dangers.''

The admission, the apology, the offer of counseling and review boards and stricter church policies including removing offending priests from ministry was not enough for several speakers, who asked that all five abusive priests be named.

''In the newspaper and on TV, you are notified when a sex offender moves into your neighborhood. What's the difference?'' Skylstad was asked.

''We will not make the names public. Some abusers feel tremendous guilt and shame,'' Skylstad said. The diocese has said it is considering releasing the name of one more priest, who was initially accused in a single case. Six more allegations against that priest have arisen in recent weeks.

Skylstad noted that the archdiocese of Baltimore this week released the names of sexually abusive priests. He said he would consider doing the same ''if it would be for the common good'' but that he feels to name priests for abuse that took place decades ago ''would heap shame upon shame.''

A woman who attends north Spokane's Assumption Church, where Skylstad spoke last week, demanded more. ''I was a deputy prosecutor. I prosecuted child molesters. By not naming these priests I guarantee they are continuing to offend right now,'' she said. Addressing the standing-room only crowd of some 250, she asked ''Can you tell me why you are not very upset we are not getting names published? These priests need to be prosecuted. They need to be put behind bars. And when they are released, then the paper can tell you a level III sex offender is in your area.''

At least two victims of abuse by Spokane priests have committed suicide, said Molly Harding of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Skylstad said later that the diocese's sex abuse review committee may discuss the issue of turning over names to police when it next meets on Friday.

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