Pope John Paul II is among the defendants in a lawsuit filed recently by a Spokane woman who claims her priest sexually abused her for years.
Besides the pope, the suit names the Rev. Dominic Doyle, the Spokane Catholic Diocese and the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
Doyle, now an assistant priest at a church in Fruitland, Wash., began an improper relationship with the plaintiff when she was 15 and he was nearly 60, the suit says.
Doyle is now 82 years old and semi-retired, said the Rev. Jake Morton, priest at Our Lady of Lourdes West End in Fruitland. The church is in western Stevens County near the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Doyle has been told by his Jesuit supervisors not to speak to the news media, Morton said.
The plaintiff met Doyle when she attended a horse camp he ran on the Kalispel Indian Reservation, north of Spokane near Usk, Wash., the suit says.
The suit says Doyle exploited the girl’s love of horses to maintain her interest, progressing from innocuous physical contact with her to wrestling to overt sexual activity.
The alleged relationship continued into her adulthood.
The diocese and the Jesuits knew or should have known Doyle was dangerous and failed to supervise him adequately, the suit says.
As for the pope, the suit says he failed to “detect and control the actions of priests known to be engaging in impermissible and, as here, illegal and criminal sexual contact with those who encountered priests during their work and daily activity.”
Lawsuits against the pope are headline-grabbers, but never go anywhere, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor in chief of the Catholic weekly magazine America.
“Once the attorney gets the headline, he finds it’s not worth his legal time and effort to pursue it and drops the pope from the lawsuit,” Reese said.
Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Bishops, gave two more reasons suits against the pope fail.
“The supervisory responsibility for clergy resides with bishops if they are diocesan or with major superiors if they are religious order members,” Ryan said.
“Also, the pope as a head of state recognized by U.S. government has `head of state immunity’ under U.S. law and international convention.”
The suit was filed Oct. 11 in King County Superior Court. Bellevue attorney Jeff Keane represents the plaintiff. Keane was involved in two previous priest sexual abuse lawsuits that ended in confidential settlements with the Spokane Diocese.
Keane could not be reached for comment Monday.
The suit identifies the plaintiff as “Jane Doe Plaintiff” to protect her privacy. It states her “true identity has been provided to defendants by separate cover letter.”
Neither the province nor the diocese had received copies of the lawsuit by Monday, officials said.
Doyle is listed in a Catholic directory as “parochial vicar” of the Fruitland church. Morton, the priest there, said Doyle hasn’t celebrated Mass “for a year or so,” but does visit the sick and performs other similar tasks.
Doyle first came to the Kalispel Reservation in the early 1950s, said the tribe’s cultural director Francis Cullooyah, 59, who called Doyle “a great man.”
At the time, Cullooyah was among the children who spent time with the priest in recreational activities such as swimming, riding horses and snowmobiling.
“I’ve never heard any complaint” about Doyle, Cullooyah said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for that man.”
Doyle also taught typing at Gonzaga Preparatory School during the same time period he worked with kids on the Kalispel Reservation, said Morton.
Molly Harding, a co-founder of the Spokane chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she has observed more skepticism from the public when the alleged victim is a teenage girl.
“They put it in the context of an affair,” she said. In reality, she said, priests have full responsibility for appropriate boundaries because they have moral and spiritual authority.