May 20, 2009 in City, Region

Seattle Catholic church abuse case settled

Associated Press
 

SEATTLE — The remaining plaintiff in a priest sex abuse trial against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to settle his case after jurors raised questions and the diocese put a deadline on a settlement offer, attorneys said Wednesday.

The 44-year-old Auburn jewelry store manager accepted $700,000 with no additional provision for attorney fees Tuesday evening, hours after he testified tearfully about how he was abused by former priest Patrick G. O’Donnell, said his lawyer, Timothy D. Kosnoff, and the attorney for the archdiocese, Michael A. Patterson.

“It was very cathartic for him,” Kosnoff said. “I think that he felt he’d accomplished his mission.”

Patterson said the amount was the same that had been offered three months before the trial began earlier this month in King County Superior Court.

After the man testified, four jurors told the judge they had questions about why, after he had been abused by O’Donnell in Seattle, he twice accepted invitations by the priest to visit him in Spokane, ostensibly to go boating on a nearby lake where he was molested more severely.

The man testified that his mother, ignorant of the abuse, welcomed the invitations. His therapist testified that such behavior is common among young sex abuse victims, especially when no one else knows of the abuse.

Even so, “it was evident that several jurors were bothered by that, and we had to take that into account,” Kosnoff said.

Patterson said he told the plaintiff’s lawyers the settlement offer would expire at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Kosnoff said his client agreed to settle about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Combined with earlier settlements with the Spokane Diocese, where O’Donnell first began abusing children, and a religious order that operated the seminary where O’Donnell was trained as a priest, the man is receiving about $1.3 million, his lawyer said.

A second plaintiff in the trial settled Monday for about $550,000. Two others settled before the trial began.

The archdiocese has now settled more than 250 claims involving priests for roughly $40 million, and fewer than 20 claims are pending, spokesman Greg Magnoni said.

O’Donnell, who now lives in La Conner, admitted molesting the plaintiffs after he was sent to Seattle from Spokane for two years of sexual deviancy treatment in 1976. He testified he had abused at least 30 young teenage boys, mostly in Spokane, before leaving the priesthood.

A question at the trial was whether retired Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who testified Monday, and other archdiocesan officials knew or should have known that O’Donnell molested boys repeatedly before he was abruptly sent to Seattle from Spokane, and whether he was monitored sufficiently before he returned to Spokane.

Hunthausen, now 87, testified that the late Spokane Bishop Bernard J. Topel, a close friend of about 50 years and his former college teacher and mentor, never told him O’Donnell was a serial child abuser.

Hunthausen could not explain why he granted O’Donnell full powers of ministry in the archdiocese without the usual documentation required of priests who temporarily move to another diocese — apparently the only time that happened while he was archbishop. He and other church leaders in Seattle have testified they thought the priest was in Seattle in 1976-78 to attend the University of Washington, which he did, earning a doctorate in education.

“It was a breach on my part,” Hunthausen testified Monday. “It’s hard to acknowledge that now. It hurts me.”

Hearing Hunthausen “admit that mistakes were made” was a big victory for the plaintiff, Kosnoff said. “It really wasn’t a money-driven decision to go to trial.”

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