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The Sins Of Our Fathers

May 21, 2002 | Seattle Times

The priest was one of several I called one day last month, curious how the Catholic Church sex scandal has affected other, presumably innocent members of the clergy.

He spoke with sadness of how he hesitates now before reaching out to parishioners.

"I never make a move to hug a child unless they make a move toward me," he told me. "Even with adults, I wait."

Days after our talk, the priest was put on administrative leave by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. A civil lawsuit accuses him of mentally and physically abusing a female parishioner, identified only as Jane Doe, during a six-year affair.

The Seattle Times has not yet named the priest in news reports, so I won't here. But I sure am tempted.

People should know there is a priest among us who would bemoan colleagues who abuse children, all the while knowing he, too, had crossed a line.

The archdiocese apparently knew about it. Archbishop Alex Brunett is named in the suit.

The woman claims the affair started in Kansas City, Mo., in 1994, when she consulted with the priest after the death of one of her parents.

Over time, she said, the affair turned abusive. Even so, the woman followed the priest when he was transferred to Seattle in 1997. It ended two years later.

But before it did, the woman persuaded the priest to attend a session with a domestic-violence counselor. In a summary of that session, the counselor said the priest admitted to other relationships with women and said he had been transferred several times "for getting too close" to them.

According to the lawsuit, the archdiocese knew about the priest's affair but believed it was consensual.

Knowing this, I went back through notes of my own conversation with the priest.

"You never put yourself in a situation where you end up being isolated" with a parishioner, he said.

Earlier in his life, before pedophile priests became daily headlines, he said, he didn't worry as much about reaching out to parishioners. "Now you think about it," he said.

I read my notes to archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant yesterday.

"Oh, my goodness," he said.

Gallant couldn't comment on the pending lawsuit. But he reminded me of comments Brunett has made about the pressures priests face to live to a higher moral standard.

"People make choices all the time about the kind of people they are going to be," he said.

The vow of celibacy is honored by most priests because their devotion lies with God.

"That's not something they want to violate," Gallant said.

Still, I said, priests are human. They break vows and fail people — and withhold truths — knowing that God forgives.

"Archbishop Brunett reminds us all the time that we are Catholics," Gallant said. "We are not saints, but sinners. And we do the best we can."

The priest has been silent since the suit was filed. No matter. His words in my notebook foreshadow his fate.

"It's a tough thing to be in the spotlight in a negative way," he said. "This is not a happy time."

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