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Woman files claim against priest in bankruptcy court

Tue., March 8, 2005

A Spokane woman has filed a bankruptcy court claim alleging that a Roman Catholic priest in Spokane leveraged his influence as counselor and spiritual adviser into a sexual relationship that ended about 20 years ago.

The claim by Joan Healy-Hartill is reportedly in excess of $10,000 to reimburse her for counseling expenses. It is among the few formal claims alleged victims of sexual abuse have filed in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of the Spokane Catholic Diocese.

Healy-Hartill said her relationship with the Rev. Joachim Hien, who is a priest at St. Anthony’s Church, began in the early 1980s as a friendship that turned into sexual encounters.

In an interview Monday evening, Hien said he planned to read a statement to parishioners seeking forgiveness.

“I plan to tell them that I am sincerely sorry for the hurt that I have caused,” he said.

Hien is considered a priest in good standing with the diocese, according to a statement from Vicar General Steve Dublinski.

Healy-Hartill said she didn’t disclose what happened to her until 1999, when she began to realize that her anguish and shame were not her fault.

She said she was a victim of incest beginning at an early age, which made her vulnerable to people in positions of trust and power. She became acquainted with Hien while worshipping at St. Patrick’s Church, helping the priest from Vietnam with his English-speaking skills. She was 26 years old at the time, married with two children.

After a series of encounters that included hugging, their relationship became sexual, she said.

Hien said that because of diocesan policy he’s not allowed to comment on Healy-Hartill’s allegations, the latest in a string of accusations of sexual misconduct that has plagued the diocese and forced it to seek bankruptcy protection from potential legal costs.

Dublinski called Hien’s relationship “inappropriate.” He said the diocese does not consider relationships between clergy and parishioners consensual because of the underlying issues of power and influence.

Dublinksi expressed sorrow for what happened and said Hien’s discipline was a private personnel matter.

Hien said he was required to undergo counseling after the relationship was first disclosed in 1999. The diocese said in its statement that no further action is contemplated.

Within minutes of Healy-Hartill’s initial report to the diocese, she said, Bishop William Skylstad called and offered an apology.

She said nothing else came of her report and request for reimbursement, so she pressed the issue again in late 2004.

“I want to make sure that if there’s other women out there, that they know they aren’t alone,” she said. “I want (Hien) and diocese held accountable.”

Hien’s actions and the bishop’s response have been considered twice by diocesan review boards – once in 1999 when Healy-Hartill initially made her accusation and again in January 2005.

She said she believes the diocese has not taken her case seriously and remains upset that Hien continues in the priesthood.

Healy-Hartill has not filed a lawsuit, though she is getting legal advice from local attorney Duane Rasmussen.

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