Seattle’s Catholic archdiocese has agreed to pay a Washington woman $725,000 as part of an early dispute resolution to her lawsuit alleging that an unidentified employee repeatedly sexually abused her at the Catholic school she attended in Bellevue more than four decades ago.
“Even though we filed the lawsuit, the archdiocese’s lawyers agreed to interview my client, and once they heard her and understood the nature of what happened, they didn’t have any doubt that this occurred,” said Darrell Cochran, the woman’s attorney. “They accepted it and moved forward to do the right thing.”
The woman, identified only by her initials, T.R., was an 8-year-old third grade student at the archdiocese’s private St. Louise Parish School in 1977 when an unidentified playground attendant started giving her candy, teaching her to kiss and otherwise began sexually grooming her, according to Cochran and the lawsuit, which was filed in April.
The employee, referred to only as “John Doe,” went on to repeatedly molest T.R. — abuse that was “foreseeable and preventable had Seattle Archdiocese acted on John Doe’s grooming behavior and removed him for his repeated sexual misconduct,” the suit contends.
“Instead, Seattle Archdiocese willfully turned a blind eye toward John Doe’s sexual misconduct with female students and endangered Plaintiff by ignoring the signs of a dangerous sexual predator,” the suit says.
T.R., a medical professional in Washington, has struggled to deal with her abuse throughout her life, Cochran said Thursday.
“For years, she has tried to compartmentalize this, hoping it would go away,” he said. “But she realized no matter what she attained in her life, it was always there.”
Cochran said filing the suit and going through the resolution discussions helped T.R. “move forward in her healing process.”
“I am impressed by this program and how quickly the archdiocese stepped forward in this case,” he said.
T.R.’s settlement is one of about 247 made since 2006 with victims sexually abused by clergy or employees who served or worked in the archdiocese dating back decades, according to the archdiocese. Mary Santi, the archdiocese’s chancellor, said the early dispute resolution protocol aims to avoid litigation that can retraumatize victims by providing “healing and closure” to any abuse survivor who wants to come forward, even those who are represented by an attorney.
“That can mean different things to different people,” Santi said. “We offer counseling, we offer a pastoral meeting with the archbishop, and sometimes we explore a financial settlement as a way to move forward in the healing process.”
Mary Dispenza, a former nun, abuse survivor and representative for the nonprofit Northwest Survivors of Nun and Priest Abuse, cautioned that while the archdiocese’s early resolution program may be right for some victims, she encouraged any survivor coming forward to first file a police report and get a lawyer.
“The church would be the very last option, to me,” she said. “Make sure you explore all of your options with an attorney first.”