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Former priest settles lawsuit

O’Donnell offers apology, agrees to pay $5 million and avoid civil trial

Former priest Patrick G. O’Donnell apologized again Wednesday, this time through his lawyer via a phone call in front of Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, to the victims of his rampant sexual abuse.

The apology, along with an agreement to pay $5 million, enables O’Donnell to avoid a looming civil trial over a child sexual abuse scandal that bankrupted the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

The money is considered a farce. The 24 people who sued him don’t expect to recover that much.

O’Donnell worked as a psychologist in the Bellevue area after he left the priesthood in 1986. He says he has few assets that can be seized to pay the judgment.

His victims believe O’Donnell does have money but disguised it or routed it to family members over the years in anticipation of legal actions.

Police never arrested O’Donnell because the statute of limitations on his child sex crimes expired.

O’Donnell said in a lawsuit deposition last year that he quit molesting boys in the fall of 1980, in part because of he almost died that year of an illness and because parents complained.

Today he lives in a comfortable home in the quiet Puget Sound community of La Conner, Wash., and has acknowledged that he can’t remember the names of the boys he molested or the specific incidents.

The suits against O’Donnell were the genesis of the protracted multimillion-dollar bankruptcy of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane. Though 24 people sued him, a total of 66 people accused him of childhood molestation or rape.

The diocese, by collecting $48 million from its parishioners and insurers, along with selling property that included the Chancery in downtown Spokane, settled with 176 people who claimed they were sexually abused by clergy.

The diocese has implemented a series of safety measures designed to thwart sex abuse within the church, including how priests are trained, screened and educated, said Greg Arpin, an attorney representing the diocese.

A list of Eastern Washington clergy that the diocese considers credibly accused is maintained on its Web site. In all, the diocese has published the names of 11 priests, 12 Jesuits and four clergy from three other Catholic organizations.

The O’Donnell case was especially damaging to the diocese because of records that show church leaders may have known about his actions. Instead of calling police or stripping him of church duties and keeping him away from children, the priest was bounced from parish to parish.

Neither the settlement with O’Donnell, the publishing of clergy names, policy changes to prevent future abuse nor the money collected from the diocese bankruptcy has completely satisfied childhood victims.

“Healed? Hell no,” said Steve Barber after the court hearing. Asked what it might take, Barber answered the impossible.

“I want to go back to when I was 13 years old … and never have this happen to me.”

Contact John Stucke at (509) 459-5419 or johnst@spokesman.com.


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