September 29, 2004 in City

Priest admits to abusing boys

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

Patrick O’Donnell, the Roman Catholic priest who has been sued for sexually abusing minors, admitted in depositions this summer to molesting more than a dozen boys.

Although he didn’t concede to abusing every single one of the roughly 25 plaintiffs who have filed four civil lawsuits against him, O’Donnell admitted to abusing victims who have never sued him. In one case, O’Donnell said he couldn’t recall a victim’s name, according to the sworn deposition obtained Tuesday by The Spokesman-Review.

O’Donnell, who was ordained in the Spokane Diocese in 1971, left the priesthood in 1985 and later became a psychologist in Bellevue, Wash.

O’Donnell has never returned phone calls from the newspaper or spoken publicly about his alleged crimes. He did not return a phone message left for him Tuesday. But in his July 7 and Aug. 30 depositions conducted in Seattle, he conceded to molesting boys during Boy Scout outings as well as in church rectories and other places throughout Spokane, North Idaho and Seattle.

In his July 7 deposition, O’Donnell said he was fondled as a seminarian by Reinard Beaver, another Spokane Diocese priest who was removed from ministry in 1988 for abusing minors. Beaver, 75, now lives in Steilacoom outside Tacoma and is the defendant in two abuse suits filed in Spokane County.

O’Donnell, who was in his mid-20s at the time, said he and Beaver were staying at a friend’s house and were sleeping in the same bed. He also said that he was uncomfortable with Beaver touching his genitals.

As a seminarian in the late 1960s, O’Donnell molested three minors, he said during his deposition. He talked to his spiritual directors about one of the cases in 1968, he said, and went to therapy for many years.

“Do you recall being concerned that you were a danger to children?” asked Mike Pfau, one of the attorneys for 23 plaintiffs.

“Well, I was not putting it in that terminology in my own mind, but I was feeling that it was not a healthy thing and might cause harm,” O’Donnell replied.

In his Aug. 30 deposition, when asked if he was grooming the boys he would later molest, O’Donnell responded: “I was not interacting with most of these teenagers so that I could have sex with them at some point in the future.”

“What were you doing?” Pfau asked.

“Trying to be a good leader and a good person most of the time. Then I would kind of fall.”

“… Certainly touching 12-, 13-, 14-year-old boys on the penis or genitals wasn’t being a good leader, was it?” the attorney asked.

“No,” O’Donnell replied.

O’Donnell and Beaver were among six priests who were named two years ago by the Diocese of Spokane as abusers of children. In previous interviews, Bishop William Skylstad said that those priests, who have all been removed from ministry, admitted to him that they had molested minors.

The Diocese of Spokane is a co-defendant in the O’Donnell lawsuits, which have been filed in Spokane County since 2002. O’Donnell’s deposition, in which he answered attorneys’ questions while under oath, was for all four lawsuits. O’Donnell does not face criminal charges because the statute of limitations has run out.

Skylstad was the pastor of Assumption Parish on Spokane’s North Side when O’Donnell worked there. In his own deposition and in previous interviews, Skylstad said he reported a genital-washing incident involving O’Donnell to then-Bishop Bernard Topel, “who advised me to counsel and remonstrate O’Donnell that this was not appropriate, which I did.” But Skylstad has said he had no idea that O’Donnell was sexually abusing boys.

Later in his deposition, O’Donnell admitted to using a “massage machine” to rub the boys’ backs. He said he would sleep in the same bed with some of the boys who wore only their underwear. O’Donnell spoke of getting into a tickling match with a boy in the rectory at St. Mary’s in the Spokane Valley. “We got down under the pants to – either to the genitals or almost to the genitals,” he told attorneys.

The 200-plus page transcript of the depositions details how O’Donnell not only used his influence as a priest to gain access to boys, but also his position as the Catholic Church’s liaison to the Boy Scouts. He was friends with the late George Robey, another scoutmaster who has been accused of being a pedophile and who committed suicide in 1982. One of the plaintiffs suing O’Donnell is also suing the Boys Scouts because he was allegedly abused by both Robey and O’Donnell in the early 1970s.

In his deposition, O’Donnell spoke of how he met several of his victims through Boy Scouts or his connection to Robey and how he abused them either at the church rectory or scout camp. He also mentioned the boys he molested while living at St. Paul’s parish in Seattle. Then-Bishop Topel sent O’Donnell to Seattle for sexual-deviancy treatment after he was accused of misconduct at Assumption Parish in Spokane.

O’Donnell in his deposition said he received very little supervision at the time despite the fact that in 1978, he had mentioned to the new bishop, Lawrence Welsh, that he had been in treatment for molesting boys.

“During the time period that you are molesting the boys from Rainier Beach in Seattle on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Bishop Welsh knew that you had molested boys in the past,” said Pfau. “Right?”

“Yes,” O’Donnell replied.

When asked later in the deposition if the bishop placed any restrictions on O’Donnell’s activities with children, O’Donnell said, “no.”

“Did anyone at the diocese in that time period while you were at (Spokane’s Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral) make any suggestions about how you should behave with children?” asked the attorney.

“I don’t think so,” said O’Donnell.

“Did anyone even talk to you about your behavior with children?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Basically you were free to do anything you wanted with children at that time, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

In the July 7 deposition, O’Donnell spoke of his conversations with Welsh after three families in 1980 complained that their children were molested aboard O’Donnell’s boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“Well, basically the conversation was, ‘This is not acceptable and get some help.’ ” O’Donnell told attorneys.

“Did he tell you that it was criminal?” Pfau asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Did he suggest that the police should be called?”

“No.”

“Did anyone call the police?”

“No, not to my knowledge.”


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