The Roman Catholic priest was much more than a close family friend to a 17-year-old high school girl. He gave her presents of perfume, jewelry and luggage.
“He’s the first man I ever kissed or ever had any sexual contact with,” said the woman, now grown and living in the Spokane area. The sexual contact was rape.
The details of the assault are recounted in one of about two dozen reports prepared by the Catholic Diocese of Spokane and provided to police in late October. The reports involve alleged abuse that occurred anywhere from 20 to 40 years ago.
While prosecutors ultimately decided they could not file charges in any of the cases of alleged sexual abuse usually because the statute of limitations had long expired police decided to release 23 of their investigation reports because of intense public interest. The reports made public had the names of victims and the alleged perpetrators blacked out.
The cases involved alleged sexual abuse in the Spokane area, and also in King and Grant counties, Kootenai County, Idaho, and in California, New Mexico and Canada. All except Kootenai County declined to pursue charges because of the long time since the alleged crimes occurred. Officials in Kootenai County are still investigating five cases there.
The current statute of limitations in Washington is before the victim’s 21st birthday or seven years after the abuse happened, whichever is later. The Legislature may consider abolishing that limit this session.
Most of the reports are very short, saying only that a victim reported being sexually abused but provided few details. In many instances, the victims were not interested in pursuing cases; some victims could not be located.
“We had to contact victims, and that was a difficult thing to do,” said Detective Sgt. Martin Anderson, who along with Detective Neil Gallion investigated the allegations. “With a lot of them, we didn’t ever receive a phone call back.”
But a few victims were ready to talk, relieved that somebody was willing to believe them, Anderson said.
The number of cases in the Spokane Diocese pales in comparison to allegations made in larger cities. The Boston Archdiocese, for instance, is facing more than 400 sex-abuse lawsuits, and has made public 18,000 pages of files detailing allegations against 83 priests.
The nationwide scandal surfaced early in 2002 in Boston, with revelations that Roman Catholic leaders had sheltered priests who were known to have abused children. By year’s end, Cardinal Bernard Law had resigned as Boston’s archbishop, and at least 325 priests nationwide either quit or were dismissed from their duties because of the scandal.
Spokane Bishop William Skylstad has been a national leader in the church’s effort to acknowledge past sexual abuse by priests and devise a plan for dealing with new allegations.
He moved quickly to give reports of alleged abuse to law enforcement agencies, and also released the names of seven priests accused of sexual misconduct. He withheld the names of six deceased priests, on the grounds they are no longer a threat to the community.
The reports released by Spokane police include often heartbreaking accounts of church officials who betrayed the trust placed in them by youngsters, some of whom were not believed when they told what had happened to them. Others, fearing they would face embarrassment or ridicule, chose to remain silent.
For example, one victim said he spent lots of time at the St. Paschal’s Church office in Spokane because his mother worked there. The youth pastor frequently hugged him, the victim told police.
Once, when he was at the church office alone, the youth pastor demanded a hug. The pastor put his hands down the victim’s pants and groped his penis, the victim told police. The victim, who was 15 or 16 at the time, said his mother has never believed his story and “it has caused some injury between the two of them, but he is working through that,” the police report said.
Another said he was molested once at Bishop White Seminary in Spokane, when he awoke to find a priest with his hand on the victim’s stomach. The victim jumped out of bed and later when he tried to tell authorities was not believed.
In a couple of instances, several members of the same family said they were targets of priestly abuse. One victim said he and two of his brothers were molested in the late 1960s and early 1970s by a priest who was a friend of the family. The molestations occurred in Wellpinit, Wilbur and at their grandparents’ home in the Shoreline area of King County. The victim told police he and his brothers did not want to publicly revisit their experiences.
The case involving the 17-year-old girl is recounted in an interview transcript that runs for nine pages. The girl, a high school student in San Gabriel, Calif., in the 1960s, reported being groomed and having dozens of sexual encounters with a priest who was a close family friend. The encounters occurred in California and Spokane over a period of several years.
In an interview in Spokane last July with Sheriff’s Detective John Grandinetti, the woman said the priest began flirting with her at a parochial school in California.
That progressed to making out, and the priest gave the girl a typewriter, jewelry, perfume, a stereo and other gifts.
During her junior year, the priest secured permission from the girl’s parents to drive her to work at a hospital on Sundays. She would perform oral sex on him while wearing her hospital uniform, the report said.
When the girl was 17, the priest picked her up on a Friday night, telling her parents she was going to baby-sit the children of his cousin. Instead, they went to a hotel and downed nearly an entire bottle of vodka, she told police.
“And then he turned into some kind of a maniac,” she said in the report. “He became really, uh, aggressive, and actually just forcibly raped me.”
It was the first time she’d had sex, she told police.
The sex continued over the next two years, usually once a week, she said. That included trysts in Phoenix and Las Vegas.
She said she was confused by her feelings, and feared the priest.
After high school she went to Gonzaga University in Spokane, where the priest continued to telephone her and send her money. She got married in 1970.
“He called me on the morning I was gonna get married, and just gave me the most harassing phone call just couldn’t believe that I was gonna get married and do that to him,” she said. “And then he actually came to my wedding.”
In 1985, the woman was divorced and living in Spokane, and her assailant, who had left the priesthood, tried to get into her life again. She rejected him.
Around 1990, the woman was in therapy to deal with the sex abuse, and the therapist told her to discuss the abuse with her family, to remove the burden of secrecy. It was then she learned the former priest had also tried to date two of her sisters when they were in school.