Victims describe abuse by priest in Spokane Diocese

Tim Patrick | The Associated Press, 2001

Spokane Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad travels to Rome next week to discuss sex abuse by priests.

Victims describe abuse by priest in Spokane Diocese

The Associated Press

SPOKANE - Eight men, who were boys at Roman Catholic parishes in the Spokane Diocese during the 1970s and 1980s, have alleged that the Rev. Patrick G. O'Donnell molested them or participated in sexually motivated "grooming" behavior.

In recent interviews with The Spokesman-Review, the eight men were joined by family members and lawyers in describing sexually inappropriate behavior by O'Donnell.

They contend the behavior began during O'Donnell's first year as a priest, in 1971, and continued through 1986, his last year of active ministry, the newspaper said in a report published Sunday.

Most of the men did not want their names used, the newspaper said.

O'Donnell, who now works as a psychologist counseling teens and families in Bellevue, did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press on Sunday. Last week, he did not return phone calls from The Spokesman-Review seeking comment.

Bellevue attorney Tim Kosnoff, who is preparing to file a lawsuit against O'Donnell and the Spokane Catholic Diocese, believes O'Donnell is the most prolific child abuser in recent regional church history.

"It has the most number of bishops who knew of the pattern, the most number of dioceses affected," said Kosnoff, who specializes in clergy sex abuse cases. "I think this is potentially the biggest, and has the biggest outrage."

The Rev. Steven Dublinski, the diocese vicar general, said he has received complaints of molestation by O'Donnell from 10 individuals in the past five months, and two more alleging "grooming" behavior.

It's clear that "a grave injury has been done to many people," said Dublinski. "Whatever we can do to be of assistance to people who were hurt, we'd like to help them."

The state Board of Psychological Examiners, which licenses and regulates psychologists, has been investigating at least six complaints filed with the Spokane Diocese against O'Donnell.

The eight men who talked to the Spokesman-Review said they're coming forward because O'Donnell was moved from parish to parish by the Spokane Diocese after allegations grew, and because O'Donnell has prospered since leaving ministry, with few visible consequences for his actions.

"He took advantage of our innocence, our virtue and our parents' trust," said a 41-year-old North Idaho man, who said he was molested during a 1974 overnight trip with O'Donnell.

O'Donnell, son of a wealthy Spokane family, maintained a two-decked cabin cruiser on Lake Coeur d'Alene during his priesthood, and had access to a family cabin.

Currently, his brother is building a three-story home for him with a view of Loff's Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene, the newspaper said.

Two former students at Assumption parish in northwest Spokane told the newspaper that O'Donnell ordered the middle school-aged boys to strip naked, or to their jock straps, and sponge off on the half-court line of the parish's gym, while he watched.

He also invited small groups on overnight outings. Bedded down in sleeping bags, the boys would suddenly feel the priest's hand down their underwear, former students said.

O'Donnell was moved among seven parishes, and underwent two lengthy diocese-paid treatment sessions for sexual deviancy, the newspaper said.

During the early 1970s, O'Donnell offered to counsel troubled kids.

Paul Jensen had already had several criminal scrapes when his mother dropped him off for counseling sessions with O'Donnell at St. Mary parish in the Spokane Valley.

During one counseling session, O'Donnell took the 14-year-old Jensen for ice cream. While they were stopped at a railroad crossing, Jensen said O'Donnell reached over to grope his crotch.

Startled, Jensen hit the priest. "He said he was trying to cheer me up," said Jensen, now 42. He stopped the counseling sessions but didn't tell his mother why.

"In those days, you didn't say, 'This priest tried to fondle me,'" he said, the newspaper reported. He kept the secret until reading a news article about O'Donnell last month.

Bishop Bernard Topel shifted O'Donnell from St. Mary's in 1974 to Assumption parish, without an explanation to parishioners, the newspaper said.

Monsignor John Donnelly learned of O'Donnell's activities when he was assigned to Assumption in 1976. Several students told Donnelly that a friend had been molested aboard O'Donnell's boat.

After confirming the story with the boy, Donnelly immediately called the diocesan chancellor, William Skylstad, and Topel. He demanded that O'Donnell be moved or he would not stay.

Donnelly, in an interview last week from a Spokane retirement home, said he confronted O'Donnell.

"I could generally say, his response seemed to be typical of dyed-in-the-wool molesters," Donnelly said. "He didn't see anything really wrong with it. I couldn't believe it."

Within months, O'Donnell was sent to get "aversion therapy" with a Seattle doctor and to live at St. Paul parish, said the Rev. John Steiner of the Spokane Diocese.

Dublinski, the vicar general, said Topel sent several letters to Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen "requesting a conversation" about O'Donnell. There is no record of a response.

Within a year of O'Donnell's return to Spokane from treatment in 1979, three Catholic families met with Bishop Lawrence Welsh to complain that the treatment had not been successful.

The families confronted Welsh with allegations that O'Donnell molested three boys aboard his cabin cruiser on Lake Coeur d'Alene, the families told the newspaper.

Welsh responded by moving O'Donnell to Rosalia in Whitman County, the newspaper said.

O'Donnell was transferred in 1985 to the Spokane Valley's St. John Vianney parish, where after learning of his history, members demanded he leave within three months.

Within two years, O'Donnell had established his Bellevue psychology practice. He remains a priest, although he was stripped of his ministerial credentials.

"I could generally say, his response seemed to be typical of dyed-in-the-wool molesters. He didn't see anything really wrong with it. I couldn't believe it."


who learned of O'Donnell's activities when assigned to Assumption in 1976

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