January 22, 2005 in City

Second lawsuit filed against Pullman priest

Virginia De Leon Staff writer
 

fast facts

Abuse lawsuit

Defendants: The Rev. James Mitchell of Pullman and the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Plaintiff: L.M. of Sherwood, Ore.

Allegations: Sexual abuse during the 1980s

A second lawsuit alleging sexual abuse was filed earlier this week against the Rev. James Mitchell, a Roman Catholic priest who lives in Pullman.

Mitchell, who has sponsored students from a rural mountain village in Colombia, is being sued by a former student who claims that Mitchell molested him when he was 14 years old.

The victim, identified only as L.M. of Sherwood, Ore., first met Mitchell in 1982, when the priest was working in Colombia, according to the complaint filed in King County Superior Court.

Mitchell allegedly adopted the boy in 1983 and a year later brought him to the United States, where the sexual abuse continued until 1986.

A similar lawsuit against Mitchell was filed last year by Ariel Ariza of Lynnwood, Wash., another former student whom the priest adopted and brought to the United States.

The complaint, filed by Seattle attorney Mary Fleck, also names the Archdiocese of Seattle as a defendant. In 1985, according to the lawsuit, Mitchell took L.M. to St. John’s Parish in Vancouver, Wash., where the priest was given permission to work by the Archdiocese of Seattle. The plaintiff claims Mitchell continued to abuse him during their stay there.

Neither Mitchell nor his attorney returned phone calls Friday for comment.

In a previous interview, Greg Magnoni of the Archdiocese of Seattle said that in 1986, one of three young men who lived with Mitchell told the pastor of St. John’s that Mitchell had abused him, but that the incidents occurred in Colombia. The pastor reported the incident to civil authorities in Vancouver, as well as to the archbishop, who then contacted the appropriate bishop in Colombia.

Mitchell was then dismissed from his position and removed from the archdiocese. No criminal action was taken since the alleged molestations happened outside the United States.

Since he moved to Pullman in the early 1990s, Mitchell has sponsored several Colombian students at Washington State University by helping them get tuition waivers and finding them housing, often in his own home. He also runs a nonprofit school for poor, rural children in Colombia called the El Camino Development and Education Fund.

Mitchell established that school in 1973, shortly after he was ordained into the priesthood by a bishop in Colombia. Before joining the seminary there, Mitchell was a Peace Corps volunteer who served for four years in the Colombian state of Santander.

In recent years, the priest has ministered to Spanish-speaking people in the Pullman area, often celebrating Mass in his own home. But according to the Diocese of Spokane, Mitchell has never had permission to function as a priest in this area.

Despite the allegations against him, only his overseeing bishop in Colombia can take any action to remove him from ministry.

That bishop, however, doesn’t have to follow the same rules enacted by the American bishops, who agreed in 2002 to investigate all claims of abuse and to permanently remove from ministry any priest who has ever molested a child.


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