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Spokane Police Will Pursue Priest Sex-Abuse Claims

Oct 30, 2002 | The Oregonian

Police will investigate the 28 reports of alleged sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests they have received from the Diocese of Spokane, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

Cases of sexual abuse of children are second only to homicide in the attention they receive from the police department, spokesman Dick Cottam said.

He noted that many of these cases are old, and the statute of limitations might have expired.

"We're still going to investigate," Cottam said. "We could clear somebody or get more information on the circumstances."

The department, however, will place its resources first in cases where a perpetrator could still be arrested, he said.

On Monday, diocese officials said they had filed 28 reports with police based on victims' allegations of sexual abuse. Three more will be filed later in the week, said the Rev. Steve Dublinski, the diocese's vicar general.

The reports involved six priests who were identified by Bishop William Skylstad last week and six others who have died, Dublinski said.

Skylstad said last week that he released the names of the six because he suspected the accusations against them were true. They are Reinard Beaver, James O'Malley, Theodore Bradley, Art Mertens, Bernard Oosterman and Patrick O'Donnell.

All resigned or were removed from ministry between 1980 and this year, but none was defrocked. That's a lengthy process that requires Vatican approval. The Spokane diocese has never defrocked a priest, Dublinksi said.

Priests removed from ministry can celebrate Mass privately but not publicly. They are banned from administering any of the church's seven sacraments, which include baptism and matrimony.

Dublinski declined to release deceased priests' names that were turned over to police, saying the allegations had not been investigated, and the dead were no longer a threat to the community.

The diocese has refused to release any more information about the allegations against the six priests named last week, including the nature of the complaints and what actions were taken.

Dublinski told The Spokesman-Review that the diocese will not sign any confidentiality agreements if lawsuits involving sexual abuse are settled.

That promise of openness followed recommendations in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was created this spring by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Skylstad is the conference's vice president.

The charter also places harsher restrictions on priests removed from ministry. They can no longer can wear their clerical collar or call themselves "Father" or "Reverend." Dublinski said the Spokane diocese intends to follow the charter.

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

Two lawsuits have been filed against the diocese, with the victims contending they were sexually abused by priests.

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