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Lawsuit claims abuse by pastor in 1980s

Fri., Oct. 17, 2008

Sexual abuse by a Christian pastor traumatized a Spokane man so badly he had flashbacks while testifying as an expert witness this year and quit his job as a social worker, a lawsuit alleges.

The man claims the abuse began when he was 16, after he accepted an invitation from Paul E. Dahl, then a teacher at Valley Christian School and a youth pastor at Valley Fourth Memorial Church, to visit him at his Spokane Valley home.

A 34-page document, filed Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court, outlines years of abuse that the plaintiff alleges was kept secret by church employees from whom he sought help and who knew Dahl was “a dangerous pedophile.” Dahl, now of Nevada County, Calif., could not be reached for comment.

The Valley Fourth Memorial Church directed questions to Spokane lawyer John P. Bowman, who did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.

The lawsuit seeks damages of $8 million.

Defendants in the case include Dahl and several former ministers and pastors at the Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane and the Valley Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane Valley.

Bob Sestero, a Spokane lawyer for four of the defendants, said he will ask the court to dismiss the case against his clients.

The statute of limitations has expired on the alleged abuse, which the lawsuit says occurred from 1985 to 1988, Sestero said. “Also it’s my understanding that a substantial portion of the allegations are uncorroborated or flat fictional,” he said.

Most of the abuse allegedly occurred after the plaintiff turned 18, and if there was sexual contact, “it happened consensually, privately and without the knowledge of anyone I represent,” Sestero said.

The man says in the lawsuit that he enjoyed the attention from Dahl, his spiritual mentor, and that he didn’t fight or protest the contact. The alleged contact occurred during overnight visits, at church camps and during weekly boys’ Bible study groups at Dahl’s home. Dahl often prayed with the boy, expressing fear that he was perceived as homosexual and demanding the boy apologize for initiating the contact, according to the lawsuit.

“When they had finished praying and plaintiff had sufficiently apologized to Mr. Dahl, they would move back to the couch together and the molestation would continue,” the lawsuit reads.

Along with Dahl, defendants in the case are Karl Payne, a former youth pastor at Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane; Ken Mewhinney, a former children’s minister at the church; Ken Ramey, a former youth pastor at Valley Fourth Memorial Church; Edward Underhill, former senior pastor at the Valley church; the Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane; the Valley Fourth Memorial Church; and Spokane Valley Christian School.

Sestero represents Payne, Mewhinney, Underhill and the Fourth Memorial Church.

According to the lawsuit, Ramey told Payne in late 1988 that parents had expressed concern about Dahl’s contact with their sons, and Payne asked the plaintiff about his relationship with Dahl. That led to meetings with church pastors, including Underhill, about the abuse, but Dahl continued to participate in church youth group activities, the lawsuit claims.

The plaintiff began private counseling in 1993, according to the lawsuit.

Kirk Miller, lawyer for the plaintiff, said that the lawsuit was first served against several defendants this summer but that Dahl was just contacted in California last week.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at


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