One of only a handful of lawsuit nationwide against the Roman Catholic Church to go to trial continued in Seattle today as one of two plaintiffs settled his case and former Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen testified that he wasn't warned about a Spokane's priest abusive past.
Former Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen took the stand Monday morning in a trial against the Seattle Archdiocese, saying he was never warned that a priest arriving in Seattle from Spokane in the late 1970s was a child molester.
Hunthausen said he felt astounded when he first heard of the abuse claims against Patrick G. O’Donnell and remembered “feeling so sad that I knew nothing about this.”
What Hunthausen knew about O’Donnell and when he knew it are key questions in the case, which alleges that the archdiocese failed to protect two plaintiffs from a visiting priest whom they knew had a long history of sexually abusing boys.
Hunthausen’s testimony came even as one of the two plaintiffs settled his case for $550,000 — the same amount he was offered before the trial began last week in King County Superior Court.
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The man’s attorney, Timothy Kosnoff, said his client settled because he didn’t want to put his family through the ordeal of testifying about how the abuse damaged him and because he had achieved his aims of hearing archdiocese officials say publicly they had placed known child molesters in parishes, and hearing the offending abuser apologize.
“You all are seeing and hearing things” because two courageous men forced the archdiocese to trial, Kosnoff said of his clients.
As the case continued with the remaining plaintiff, the courtroom was more crowded than usual because of Hunthausen’s appearance.
During his tenure as head of the Seattle Roman Catholic Archdiocese from 1975 to 1991, Hunthausen was a controversial figure, admired by many but regarded with dismay by many others for his outspoken liberal views and actions.
Now 87, retired, and living in Montana, he walked to the witness stand slowly with the aid of a cane but spoke strongly and clearly.
Hunthausen acknowledged that the proper procedure for admitting visiting priests appeared not to have been followed in the case of O’Donnell.
“It was a breach on my part,” he said of not requesting written documentation from the Spokane bishop at the time. “I know I shouldn’t have done that.”
But Hunthausen said he must have talked with then-Spokane Bishop Bernard Topel — a close friend — and gotten a recommendation from him — though Hunthausen acknowledged under questioning that he had no precise recollection of such a conversation.
O’Donnell was sent by the Spokane Diocese to Seattle in 1976 for sexual-deviancy treatment. While here, he served at St. Paul Church in Rainier Beach from 1976 to 1978 and earned his doctorate in education from the University of Washington. He has admitted to molesting both plaintiffs when they were children attending St. Paul.
Hunthausen is a central witness because much of the case revolves around whether he, and/or other Seattle Archdiocese leaders at the time, knew about O’Donnell’s abusive history and behavior.
Hunthausen is the only one among those top leaders who is still alive to testify.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers contend that not only did Hunthausen know about O’Donnell’s history, he worked with Topel to arrange for the priest to come hastily to Seattle to prevent a scandal from erupting in Spokane.
Furthermore, they claim that the archdiocese, under Hunthausen’s leadership, was negligent by not properly vetting O’Donnell before he came to St. Paul.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys asked Hunthausen whether he recalled placing James McGreal, a Seattle Archdiocese priest who’s been accused of molesting numerous boys, in various parishes and removing him because he molested children. Hunthausen said no.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys were trying to draw a parallel between Hunthausen’s lack of memory regarding McGreal, and, by implication, his lack of reliable memory regarding O’Donnell.
Hunthausen, acknowledging his memory wasn’t as sharp as it once was, said Topel did not tell him of O’Donnell’s abusive background and that all he knew of O’Donnell at the time was that the priest was in Seattle to pursue graduate studies, and that he had been recommended by a bishop friend as a priest in good standing.
Lawyers for the archdiocese’s say Hunthausen and others in the archdiocese were never told back then about O’Donnell’s history, nor that he was being treated for a sexual attraction to boys. They believed the priest was in Seattle for graduate school.
Furthermore, the lawyers say, the archdiocese received approval through a phone call from Topel for O’Donnell to serve in Seattle — though neither Topel nor the archdiocesan leader who received the call can testify since both are deceased.
During his years as Seattle’s archbishop, Hunthausen withheld part of his income tax to protest the nuclear arms buildup, gave women a broader role in church leadership, and opened St. James Cathedral for a Mass celebrated by a national gay Catholic group.
As critics accused Hunthausen of deviating too much from church teachings, the Vatican ordered him to share power temporarily with an auxiliary bishop.
The two plaintiffs whose trial began here last week were among four men who filed the lawsuit in 2005. Two of the four settled before trial.
The two who went to trial had reached settlements earlier with the Spokane Diocese and the Catholic order that ran the seminary where O’Donnell attended, archdiocese attorney Michael Patterson had said earlier.
Altogether, Kosnoff said, the client who settled Monday is receiving more than $1 million — to be reduced by attorneys fees — from his settlements with the Seattle Archdiocese, the Spokane Diocese and the Sulpician order.
Kosnoff said the settlement with the archdiocese announced Monday was his client’s decision, and not a reflection of how the trial was going. The amount is about in the middle of the $400,000 to $800,000 average of settlements in lawsuits against the archdiocese, said Kosnoff.
The amount has been on the table for about two to three months before the trial, Patterson said. But the plaintiff had asked for over a million dollars plus attorney’s fees.
“They wanted more, we said no, and they finally took it,” Patterson said. “They’ve now agreed it was a reasonable offer.”
Kosnoff declined to disclose the settlement amounts for the two plaintiffs who settled before trial but did say the one plaintiff who remains wants to see the trial all the way to the end.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or email@example.com