The Archdiocese of Seattle has agreed to settle a mid-1980s molestation case at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Kirkland.

Share story

Back in the mid-1980s, James Funnell was the charismatic lay person who turned around the youth-ministry program at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Kirkland.

This week, the Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to pay $635,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was abused by Funnell and that the church didn’t do enough to prevent it.

It is a pattern that attorney Michael Pfau, who represented the victim in this case, has seen before. Over the past decade, his firm has represented more than 100 people who say they were victimized by church personnel, and the archdiocese has paid out “tens of millions of dollars” to resolve the cases, he said.

The archdiocese settled one other case involving Funnell, who later changed his last name to Fionnghael and moved to Virginia Beach, Va.

An attorney for the archdiocese said the church didn’t know anything was amiss until later on, when the mother of another boy came forward with allegations and went to police. In 1989, Funnell was charged with sexually assaulting that boy and was fired. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Funnell had a particular M.O., according to Pfau. He would get a boy alone, or sometimes gather a small group and get them to play games like strip pool, so they would have to take off their clothes. Then he would show them pornography and touch their genitals, or have them touch themselves, according to Pfau. “He would convince these adolescents that this stuff was cool,” Pfau said.

The victim in this case, Rolfe Eckmann, agreed to be named. He said he blamed himself for years. Sometimes, he even went so far as to defend Funnell.

“You would think you’d know better, but you have a person who is so charismatic and so doting on you that you fall into the trap,” Eckmann said. “He was good at what he did.”

Once a good student, Eckmann says, his grades began falling. He says he became defiant with his parents, and engaged in self-destructive behavior, such as drugs. Over the years, he didn’t think to blame the church. His view of the situation changed when he learned that his parents had gone to the pastor with their concerns, and their concerns were dismissed.

“He blew them off,” Pfau said. They have since learned that the pastor they’d confided in later had troubles of his own. “There were some alleged misconduct issues,” archdiocese attorney Michael Patterson said, without providing further details.

Eckmann has since cleaned up his life and runs his own construction company. About two years ago, a private investigator representing another victim called asking questions, and he “had a full-on panic attack. … I just didn’t want to face it.”

Then he decided to tell her what he knew.

Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or