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Diocese Now Filing Reports Of Sex Abuse With Police

Oct 29, 2002 | Spokesman Review

The Catholic Diocese of Spokane has filed 28 reports with the Spokane Police Department based on victims' allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Three more will be filed this week, said the Rev. Steve Dublinski, the diocese's vicar general.

The reports were filed against six priests who were named by Bishop William Skylstad last week and six others who have died. Dublinski declined to release the names of the deceased.

"All we have are allegations, and the allegations have not been investigated," Dublinski said. "The deceased are no longer any threat to the community."

Vague allegations were made against two other dead priests, but police couldn't investigate those because the victims weren't identified.

In an interview Monday, Dublinski provided some information about the diocesan priests accused of sexual abuse.

He said the diocese no longer has a copy of its insurance policy during the 1970s, the same period when accusations were made against one of the priests, Pat O'Donnell.

Dublinski also fiercely defended the late Bishop Lawrence Welsh, whose involvement in an alleged sex crime recently was revealed in a 16-year-old police report.

"This is a story about a human being," Dublinski said. "The man had some problems. ... There was a conversion that occurred in his life."

The diocese didn't try to cover up what happened to Welsh, Dublinski said. Former Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle had Welsh evaluated and sent to the East Coast for treatment. After a relapse and more rigorous treatment, Welsh in 1991 worked in Minneapolis for Archbishop John Roache.

"He was very beloved there," Dublinski said.

Welsh died of cancer in 1999.

The diocese won't release any more information about the allegations against the six priests named last week, including the nature of the complaints, when they were made to the diocese and what actions were taken.

"I don't see how it's helpful to the situation," he said.

Dublinski pledged that the diocese will not sign any confidentiality agreements if victims now suing opt for settlements instead of going to court.

The promise of openness follows recommendations in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was formulated this spring by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Skylstad is the conference's vice president.

The diocese has spent about $45,000 in medication and counseling for sexual abuse cases, but has provided no money for settlements, Dublinski said. Two settlements with sexual abuse victims were paid for by individual priests, he said.

Neither he nor the diocese's lawyer, Michael Geraghty, named the priests or the settlement amounts because the victims required the diocese to sign a confidentiality agreement, Geraghty said.

Dublinski said the diocese doesn't know yet how much insurance it has to cover lawsuits filed against it as a result of the alleged abuse.

The diocese has policies with three insurance companies, but the written policies for the 1970s were destroyed during a flood more than a decade ago at Maloney, O'Neill, Corkery & Jones Benefits Inc., the insurance broker, Geraghty said.

Right now, the diocese has no record of its insurance policy during the time when accusations were made against O'Donnell, Dublinski said. Insurance companies don't have records that go back that far, said Geraghty.

Ten plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last month against O'Donnell and the diocese. Two others in another lawsuit are suing O'Donnell, the diocese, the Boy Scouts and Skylstad. Past jury awards in similar cases around the country have amounted to as much as $1 million per victim.

The diocese also is considering offering workshops in addition to the training in appropriate boundaries and sexual harassment that it has provided to priests and employees since 1989. Clerics, for instance, are taught never to initiate hugs because they can be misinterpreted.

Although removed from ministry, none of the six diocesan priests named by the bishop was defrocked -- a lengthy process that requires approval by the Vatican. The Spokane Diocese has never defrocked a priest, Dublinksi said.

The named priests were removed from public ministry. Dublinski said there has been some confusion as to what that means.

Priests removed from ministry can celebrate Mass privately, but not publicly. Although they maintain a relationship with the diocese, they are banned from administering any of the seven sacraments of the church, which include baptism and matrimony.

The restrictions of the new bishops' charter are stricter: Priests removed from ministry no longer can wear their clerical collar or call themselves "Father" or "Reverend." Dublinski said the diocese intends to follow the charter.

Reinard Beaver, one of the six named priests, allegedly violated those restrictions, Dublinski said. Although Skylstad said he was removed in 1983, Dublinski said it may have been as late as 1988. Theodore Bradley, who was removed from the ministry this year, was given "limited permission" to officiate at some services, but he "stretched" those limits, Dublinski said.

Despite their removal from the ministry, the sacraments they administered are still valid for those receiving them. Church law dating back to the fourth century states that "sacraments do not depend on the personal holiness of the individual priests," said Dublinksi, "but on the grace of Christ."

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