In apparent defiance of Vatican wishes, Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad on Wednesday released the names of five priests in the Spokane Diocese who have been accused of sexually abusing children.
Skylstad, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was releasing the names under guidelines established this June by U.S. bishops dealing with the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
Last week, Skylstad and other U.S. churchmen went to the Vatican to brief Pope John Paul II about the U.S. church’s new policies, which the Vatican opposed as possible violations of universal church law.
All five of the priests Skylstad identified had already been removed from ministry, in some cases as long ago as 1980, he said.
“All the alleged abuse incidents occurred at least fifteen years ago and action was taken to remove these men from ministry when the diocese became aware of the allegations,” Skylstad said in a news release.
“These cases have been turned over to local law enforcement authorities,” he said.
Skylstad declined to speak with the news media after the news release was distributed.
Cases date back to 1980
Deputy Spokane Police Chief Al Odenthal said the cases will be investigated to determine if charges can be brought. The statute of limitations on sexual abuse is three years.
The five priests, who have not been charged with any crimes, are James O’Malley, who was removed from ministry in 1989; Theodore Bradley, removed this year; Art Mertens, removed in 1989; Reinard Beaver, removed in 1983; and Bernard Oosterman, who resigned from ministry in 1980.
According to local members of the national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, O’Malley served in Chewelah, Rosalia and in the chancery in Spokane. Bradley served in the Spokane Valley. Mertens served in Walla Walla. Beaver served at churches in Spokane and a seminary in Colbert.
Little information was immediately available about Oosterman.
Mike Ross, 48, a co-founder of the Spokane chapter of SNAP, said he was pleased the names were released.
“We’re delighted they are starting to move in the right direction to uncover the coverup,” Ross said. “People directly affected by these perpetrators can now have some justice in their lives.”
As previously disclosed in lawsuits, another former Spokane priest, Patrick O’Donnell, resigned in 1985.
O’Donnell is a defendant in several Spokane County Superior Court lawsuits that allege the Spokane diocese knew he was a serial sexual predator for decades, but still allowed him to serve in several parishes. Skylstad is named as a defendant in the lawsuits.
Skylstad encouraged any victims of sexual abuse to contact the Spokane diocese.
“I especially appeal to the Catholic community and to the broader community to have empathy and compassion for victims and their families as well as for the offenders and their families,” Skylstad said.