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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Priest formerly in Yakima ordered to pay $5 million in abuse case

A federal judge in Spokane awarded an Oregon man $5 million in damages stemming from sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Yakima more than 30 years ago.

The priest, Ernest Dale Calhoun, did not contest the allegations made by the man, who was identified only by his initials in court documents. The case was filed with the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington in August 2014.

Both the Corporation of the Catholic Bishop of Yakima and the Beaumont Diocese in Texas where Calhoun served before arriving in Yakima in 1977 had previously been dismissed from the case. The Beaumont Diocese settled with the man for an undisclosed amount of money, and the Yakima diocese paid $75,000 to settle the case, according to local news accounts.

The victim’s attorney, Vito de la Cruz, of Yakima, called the award “the largest civil judgment entered against an individual priest in Central and Eastern Washington.”

“The judgment entered by Court is significant because of the amount, but more importantly, because it holds Calhoun accountable for decades of emotional trauma he inflicted on our client,” de la Cruz said in a statement.

It is not the first time Calhoun, who now resides in a suburb of Houston, has been sued successfully for emotional trauma related to abuse. He faced his first legal claim of sexual abuse in 1988 and was named in a case that went all the way to the Washington Supreme Court in 1999, where a former altar boy at St. Paul’s Parish in Yakima claimed he was abused by Calhoun and another priest in the early 1980s.

The Oregon man who won the $5 million judgment said he was abused by Calhoun from the time he was 12 to when he turned 17.

Randall L. Green, a Salem-based psychologist, said the man would need counseling services costing more than $20,000, in addition to compensation for “pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional damages.”

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson had scheduled a hearing for next month in Yakima to hear arguments about potential judgment amounts. But Calhoun did not respond to the victim’s claims, and Peterson last week entered the $5 million judgment on the man’s behalf, without argument.

Calhoun has not hired an attorney, according to court records. An attorney for Paine Hamblen, the Spokane-based law firm representing the Texas diocese in the proceedings, said he was not involved in the discussions leading to the $5 million judgment.

A Beaumont Diocese spokeswoman said Tuesday that Calhoun is no longer affiliated with their church.

The judgment is just one of many nationwide resulting from allegations of widespread sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2004 amid multiple claims of abuse, eventually agreeing to a settlement of at least $48 million.

The nonprofit watchdog group BishopAccountability, based in Massachusetts, reports that more than $3 billion has been spent nationwide to settle cases of clergy abuse.

It’s unlikely Calhoun will be able to pay the costs of the judgment. He filed for bankruptcy protection in Western Washington in 1994.

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