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Priest Is Target Of New Sex Allegations

May 30, 2002 | Seattle Times

A name from the past is causing new troubles for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

Six former altar boys who claim they were sexually abused by the Rev. James McGreal in the 1970s filed a lawsuit yesterday in King County Superior Court against the retired priest and the archdiocese.

Archdiocese officials have acknowledged in the past that McGreal, who served in an at least 10 parishes and two hospitals in the archdiocese between 1948 and 1988, had a continued history of molesting boys until his offenses surfaced publicly in 1988.

It was the actions of McGreal and another priest, the Rev. Paul Conn, that prompted the archdiocese to initiate a policy in the late 1980s for dealing with sexually abusive priests.

In yesterday's lawsuit, which asks for unspecified damages, the men say they were altar boys at St. Catherine Church in Seattle during McGreal's tenure there from 1971 to 1977. The men, all of whom live in Western Washington, contend McGreal sexually assaulted them several times a week for years, frequently making references to God and ordering the children to pray during the abuse.

The suit also alleges that the priest plied the boys with sacramental wine.

The abuse continued even after at least two of the boys' parents complained to then-Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who ignored the allegations, the suit contends.

Archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant said yesterday that he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. He said he didn't know McGreal's whereabouts.

McGreal reportedly lives in a retirement home for priests somewhere in Oregon, where he has been since retiring in 1988. He was never charged with a crime.

He was not reached for comment yesterday.

A 1994 lawsuit filed in Clallam County involving McGreal was settled for undisclosed terms. The entire case file remains under seal based on a motion filed by the archdiocese.

The current lawsuit comes as a clergy-abuse scandal is enveloping the Catholic Church in the United States.

It began in January when news coverage revealed hundreds of children had been molested by some priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Last month, a group of U.S. cardinals conferred for two days with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and proposed ways to move more effectively against the problem.

U.S. bishops will meet in Dallas on June 13 to discuss a zero-tolerance policy for priests facing credible accusations of sexual abuse.

The plaintiffs who filed yesterday's lawsuit are all in their mid-30s, said their attorney, Michael Pfau of Tacoma. They filed using only their initials to protect their identity. They were not available for comment yesterday.

The men were about 9 to 13 years old when the alleged abuse occurred, Pfau said. Asked why they came forward after so many years, Pfau speculated that the current scandal had stirred up painful memories.

"I think a lot of this been tucked away," he said. "And I think the current publicity about the scandal and the acknowledgement that victims are not to blame and the church hierarchy has been covering up is a big factor."

The archdiocese, under pressure from a victim, in 1988 publicly acknowledged offenses by McGreal.

Despite reform efforts made after McGreal's case came to light, the archdiocese now finds itself caught up in the nationwide scandal as victims of long-ago abuse come forward. Last week, the archdiocese announced the removal from active ministry of the Rev. John Cornelius, a popular longtime priest in Seattle and Everett accused by more than a dozen men of molesting them as young boys and teenagers between 1968 and 1985.

The archdiocese also is facing a lawsuit filed in September in Clark County by a former altar boy who claims he was abused by the Rev. Barry Ashwell in the 1970s.

The priest, currently serving at a parish in Buckley, Pierce County, has been placed on administrative leave during the legal proceedings.

And last month, a woman sued a Seattle priest, his religious order and the archdiocese, claiming the priest physically abused her during a six-year relationship.

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