May 14, 2009 in City, Region

Putting abusive priests in parishes was wrong, pastor says

Janet I. Tu The Seattle Times
 

The pastor at St. James Cathedral resumed the witness stand Thursday in the trial against the Seattle Archdiocese, acknowledging that years ago, the archdiocese put known child molesters back in parishes, following the advice of counselors who treated the abusive priests.

Back then, the Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan testified, archdiocese leaders thought that child sexual abuse was treatable, if not curable.

In hindsight, given what’s known about it now, putting the offending priests back in parishes was the wrong thing to do, he said.

“We should be sorry and we are sorry,” he said.

Ryan was testifying in the trial of a lawsuit filed by two men who said the Seattle Archdiocese didn’t do enough to protect them from Patrick O’Donnell, a former priest from the Spokane Diocese who served at St. Paul Church in Rainier Beach from 1976-1978 when he was sent to Seattle for sexual-deviancy treatment.

O’Donnell, who testified earlier this week, has admitted to molesting both men when they were children attending St. Paul Church.

The archdiocese has acknowledged in previous years — well before this trial — that it did put child molesters back in parishes after professional counselors advised them it was OK to do so.

Its policy now is different, calling for it to notify law-enforcement and place an accused priest on administrative leave as soon as an allegation comes in.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Pfau asked Ryan if it would have been reasonable back then to warn parishioners about a child-molesting priest.

Ryan said from the standpoint of today, yes. And back then, not telling parishioners was not done for “any sinister reason,” he said.

Ryan acknowledged knowing of one case — the Rev. Edmund Boyle, a now-deceased priest who has been the subject of several lawsuits — where the archdiocese placed a child molester back in ministry without the advice of professionals.

But Ryan said that during the time he served on an archdiocesan board overseeing priest personnel issues, no issues or concerns regarding O’Donnell came before the board, and he had never read documents expressing concern about O’Donnell in the archdiocese’s “secret archives,” which contain sensitive information about priests.

Former Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen is expected to take the stand Thursday afternoon.


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