Parish members vent grief

Friday, September 27, 2002

Parish members vent grief
Churchgoers question bishop on alleged abuse
Related stories

Jonathan Martin
Staff writer

Colin Mulvany - The Spokesman-Review
``I'm very sorry for what has happened,'' Bishop William Skylstad says to people gathered Thursday night at Assumption Parish, where six of 10 plaintiffs in a lawsuit say the Rev. Patrick O'Donnell molested them.

The church was grieving.

On Thursday evening, parishioners at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin mourned for the faith they placed in the charismatic young Rev. Patrick O'Donnell. For the trust they had placed in bishops, who sent O'Donnell to the parish even after allegedly molesting boys.

And they grieved for one of their own, the son of longtime parishioners who killed himself last month after confronting past abuse by O'Donnell.

As Spokane Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad listened with arms c.htmled, about 90 parishioners spilled anger, sadness and a hope that the church would heal from the scandal caused by O'Donnell.

"It truly sickens me what took place here," Bob Moore, whose parents helped found the parish, told Skylstad. "Did you do everything in your power ... to protect kids who were so harmed by the actions of this man?"

As with many such questions asked during the heated, 90-minute meeting, Skylstad didn't answer directly.

Instead, he told the group what the diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had done to address sexual abuse allegations.

The diocese and O'Donnell were sued Thursday by nine men and one widow for alleged abuse by O'Donnell.

Skylstad also said he was meeting with parishes where widespread abuse occurred. He met with a Walla Walla parish earlier this year and with Rosalia's Holy Rosary parish Wednesday, and plans to visit St. John Vianney on Oct. 8.

At the time allegations against O'Donnell were surfacing in the mid-1970s, church leaders relied on psychologists, who believed they could cure O'Donnell, Skylstad said.

``There was a presumption a person could go through therapy'' and continue ministering, he said. ``There wasn't recognition of the depth of the problem.''

That didn't satisfy some parishioners. Sandy Kimball, a parishioner since 1976, choked through tears to ask Skylstad why he didn't call police about O'Donnell.

``Didn't the church recognize a crime had been committed?'' she said. ``They were evil. They robbed children of innocence. They robbed children of faith. Why wasn't he sent to jail?''

She and other parishioners seemed to disbelieve Skylstad's statement that he didn't know of abuse allegations. Skylstad and O'Donnell shared the tiny rectory for about 18 months.

Skylstad said he didn't know if any allegations that surfaced at the time were taken seriously.

``All I know is, we will really take at face value the people coming forward now,'' he said.

One man, who declined to give his name, said he knew of 15 to 20 boys from his class who were likely molested or groomed for molestation in one class alone at Assumption's school.

What the parish needs now, he said, is to see church leaders sharing parishioners' grief.

``If there is a way if you as men can show compassion, show us your hurt, and we'll understand it,'' the man said.

Others said Skylstad should share all he knows about O'Donnell with other diocese priests, who hadn't been fully briefed.

And some wondered if Skylstad knew more than he was telling.

``As of this morning, they know what I know,'' Skylstad said.

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

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