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Archdiocese Sued Over Abuses Claim Dating To The 1970s

Apr 3, 2002 | Seattle Times

A lawsuit filed in Clark County Superior Court alleges the Archdiocese of Seattle knew or should have known about a priest accused of pedophilia years ago at a Vancouver parish.

The 59-year-old priest, who most recently has been at a Pierce County parish, has been placed on administrative leave. The adult plaintiff, a former altar boy listed only as "M.H." in the lawsuit, claims the priest "enticed, induced, directed and coerced" him to engage in various sexual acts with him over a five-year period. The suit, filed in September, does not list the dates of the abuse, but archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant said it involved abuse alleged to have happened more than 25 years ago.

Gallant did not immediately have the dates that the priest was at St. Joseph's parish. The priest had also served in an Island County parish until about two years ago.

M.H.'s lawyer, Vancouver attorney James Sellers, did not return phone calls yesterday.

The priest denies the allegations, Gallant said. The priest could not be contacted yesterday, and Gallant said he did not know his whereabouts.

Similar allegations were made about the same priest about five years ago, also alleging abuse from the 1970s, Gallant said. The archdiocese investigated those allegations but could not find corroborating evidence and no action was taken against the priest, Gallant said.

Nonetheless, the church reached an agreement of some sort with the complaining parties, Gallant said.

The specifics of the allegations, how they were resolved and how many people were involved were unclear yesterday.

"Closure came to those cases; the sides were able to agree," Gallant said.

By most accounts, the Seattle Archdiocese has been a leader in the way it deals with sexual-abuse cases. Church guidelines call for the church to conduct an investigation and contact law enforcement when claims of sexual abuse, misconduct or harassment are made against clergy and other employees.

But police were never contacted for any allegations made against the priest in the Clark County suit. That's because the claims involved abuse alleged to have happened in the 1970s, long past the statute of limitations, Gallant said.

"Obviously if it's a current case of child abuse, that's reported," Gallant said. "But if it's not a criminal case, and the prosecutor isn't going to take it, what are we supposed to do? Obviously it's our duty to find out what's going on and find out what we can do to help (the alleged victim)."

The current policies were developed in response to a scandal in 1988, when it was revealed that the archdiocese had assigned the Rev. Jim McGreal to a Federal Way parish without revealing that he had been removed from other parishes because of pedophilia accusations.

That same year, the Rev. Paul Conn pleaded guilty to molesting altar boys in a Port Angeles parish.

Gallant has said those are the only confirmed cases of child molestation in the archdiocese of which the archbishop is aware.

"When we talk about the current atmosphere, what you're asking is the same question we're asking: Is there anyone in the current ministry who poses a threat to children or the community? We don't believe there is."

Victims' advocates and sexual-assault counselors credit Seattle's progressive stand for helping it avoid the current spate of scandals jolting other dioceses across the country.

But while the archdiocese here has openly acknowledged those two cases in the 1980s, it never has disclosed the number of priests who have been investigated or removed for sexual abuse under the policy. Nor has it revealed how much has been paid in settlements.

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