by Tom Wolfe
Silence and shame are the best friends of a child molester.
Allegations of sexual molestation and misconduct by the Rev. Patrick G. O'Donnell, now a Bellevue psychologist, span nearly two decades. But O'Donnell was never removed from the priesthood, never stripped of his license to practice psychology and never charged with a sex crime.
That could change, now that the silence is broken.
Bellevue attorney Tim Kosnoff plans to file a civil suit against O'Donnell as early as this week, representing nine or 10 men who claim they were molested as boys. A state licensing board is investigating new complaints of sexual impropriety, and the Catholic Church acknowledges that ``a grave injury has been done to many people.''
O'Donnell wasn't answering his business phone yesterday and didn't return messages. But he appears to be maintaining a longtime counseling practice near Overlake Hospital in Bellevue and reportedly lives in Yarrow Point. Calls to his home phone yesterday also went unanswered.
Reporter Jonathan Martin of Spokane's Spokesman-Review investigated allegations against O'Donnell for more than a month before the paper printed a major story Sunday on the results of that investigation. The Associated Press picked up the story and it was republished widely, including yesterday in the Journal.
Attorney Kosnoff, who has devoted the past five or six years of his practice exclusively to pursuing civil lawsuits against longtime sex offenders, especially among the clergy, said that yesterday's media attention helped break through a barrier.
``My phone's been ringing off the hook today,'' he said in a phone interview last night from the Salt Lake City airport.
The calls were from men and families who read about others coming forward and decided to do the same. ``I probably have a dozen new victims.''
It is also the media who have broken a history of silence.
The tradition in reporting has been to wait until a person is formally accused of a crime before publishing allegations.
In cases such as O'Donnell's, that approach now seems irresponsible.
A man who killed himself in 1990 cited alleged abuse by O'Donnell in a suicide note, and the Spokesman-Review reports that Spokane Diocese officials acknowledged last week that there may be another such case.
Kosnoff said yesterday that he expects ``the trail of human destruction'' will eventually number in the dozens, possibly more than 100.
``I've been tracking these cases nationally, and this is one of the worst I've seen,'' he said last night.
Complaints about O'Donnell first surfaced in the 1970s and 1980s, when the church moved him to seven different parishes in Idaho and Eastern Washington and twice sent him to be treated for sexual deviancy.
None of that was reported at the time, although allegations against O'Donnell had gone far past the rumor stage.
The Spokesman-Review's investigation found that O'Donnell's sexual deviancy and misconduct were widely known by the time of his last significant stint in the ministry, in Rosalia, in central Washington, in the mid-1980s: ``It wasn't in any way a secret,'' said Rusty McGuire, who graduated from Rosalia in 1982, told the newspaper. ``Everyone knew he did this kind of stuff. But for some reason, nobody did anything.''
At least not then.
Tom Wolfe is editor of the Eastside Journal. His column runs every Tuesday. Readers can reach him by phone 425-453-4230, e-mail [email protected] or fax 425-635-0603.