Psychology board reviews ex-priest

Thursday, August 29, 2002


Psychology board reviews ex-priest
More allegations emerge in Spokane and Seattle

Jonathan Martin
Staff writer

O'Donnell in 1978

The state psychology licensing board is searching for alleged sexual abuse victims of a former Spokane priest, even as some are breaking decades of silence to report being molested.

The Board of Psychology began an investigation of Patrick G. O'Donnell this week after reading news reports about people contacting the Catholic Diocese of Spokane with abuse allegations.

Investigators will examine whether O'Donnell -- a psychologist during and after his 15-year priesthood -- violated ethics provisions, including one barring "moral turpitude."

The Spokane Diocese, already bracing for potential lawsuits from six allegations against O'Donnell, received two more complaints this week.

All of the complaints involve alleged incidents from the 1970s or early 1980s.

Robert Nicoloff, executive director of the state's Health Professionals Division, said the investigation is unusual because it was prompted by a Spokesman-Review story on Saturday, and because it appeared to involve incidents nearly two decades old.

"We want to make sure that all potential complaints and victims are discussed and identified," he said.

Should the board find misconduct, it could suspend or revoke his license.

O'Donnell didn't return repeated messages left at his home in Bellevue or at his family psychology practice, Cascade Behavioral Medicine Clinic.

The investigation is coming eight years too late for Jeanne O'Donnell, who filed a complaint in 1994 with the psychology board about Patrick O'Donnell, who is of no relation.

She had learned of O'Donnell's history of molestation while a parishioner at St. John Vianney, his last parish before leaving the ministry in 1986.

She filed the complaint after learning he counseled teenagers in his psychology practice, she said, but the psychology board never acted on it.

The psychology board restricted O'Donnell's license in 1984 after concluding that he molested two 13-year-old boys during a Lake Coeur d'Alene boating trip.

Two years later, after the incident became public, O'Donnell moved to Bellevue.

Nicoloff didn't know whether board officials contacted law enforcement after the 1984 restriction, though state law required such reporting.

The new complaints -- and another from Seattle that hasn't been officially reported to the diocese -- suggest that O'Donnell's alleged abuse didn't end with 21/2 years of sexual deviancy treatment in the late 1970s in Seattle.

Two complaints are from O'Donnell's years as a priest at Holy Rosary parish in Rosalia, where he was transferred after treatment.

Another is from a man who says he was molested while O'Donnell was in treatment. That man has not yet contacted the diocese.

Jim Biteman, 39, said he'd struggled for decades after O'Donnell molested him as a middle-schooler at St. Paul's parish school in Seattle.

The Spokane Diocese had sent O'Donnell to live at the parish and get treatment at a private clinic, according to the Rev. John Steiner, past vicar general for the diocese.

"That blew us away, that he had offended when he was there," Steiner said of Biteman's allegation.

The Archdiocese of Seattle has no records of O'Donnell serving at St. Paul's, said spokesman Bill Gallant.

"From our understanding of O'Donnell, he wasn't assigned to the Seattle Archdiocese," he said. The Spokane Diocese was responsible for him, Gallant said.

Steiner, however, said then-Bishop Bernard Topel and Seattle's Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen had a close relationship.

"Archbishop Hunthausen would have known why he was there," said Steiner.

Biteman's attorney, Tim Kosnoff of Bellevue, plans to file a lawsuit against the Spokane and Seattle dioceses. He also believes prosecutors should request all records related to O'Donnell from both dioceses.

"When I see O'Donnell, it's just another anecdote to argue that prosecutors have to do something, and now," he said.

Kosnoff said a second man called him earlier this week to allege abuse by O'Donnell in the early 1970s. The man, now 43, said he met O'Donnell while the priest served as a Boy Scout chaplain in Spokane, Kosnoff said.

On Monday, a couple from Garfield told the Spokane Diocese that O'Donnell molested their son during a boating trip in the late 1970s, while O'Donnell was at the Rosalia parish. Their son was 12 at the time.

The couple's son committed suicide in 1990, and referred to the alleged abuse in his suicide note.

"His words were, `What happened to me destroyed me,"' the boy's mother told The Seattle Times. The couple were unaware that O'Donnell was still a practicing psychologist.

Spokane Bishop William Skylstad planned to meet with the couple Wednesday afternoon.

Biteman said O'Donnell suggested he and other students at St. Paul's School swim naked during trips on Lake Washington, and suggested that Biteman envision himself and other students naked.

After being invited to dinner at Biteman's house, O'Donnell asked to tuck Biteman in bed and to massage him, which led to molestation, Biteman said.

Biteman said he now shuns church.

"To me growing up, the priest was close to God, and the church was God," he said. "There's been points in the past couple of years where I wondered if there was a God, because of this."

• Jonathan Martin can be reached at (509) 459-5484 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Office Locations
Kosnoff PLLC
2505 Second Ave.
Suite 610
Seattle, WA 98121
Phone-Main: 425-654-0953
Toll-Free: 877-275-4416

250 E. Wisconsin Avenue
18th Floor
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Toll-Free: 877-275-4416

It Was NOT Your Fault

Call to set up a consultation with Timothy D. Kosnoff, an experienced and trusted advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and incest.
Call today.