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     On November 15, William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane, WA, was elected president of the USCCB.  His election came only five days after he announced his decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the result of pending sexual abuse allegations and law suits.   Bishop Skylstad is no stranger to the homosexual abuse scandals that continue to plague the Church. 

     In the summer of 2002, men were coming forward to tell of their abuse at the hands of Fr. Patrick Gerald O’Donnell, Jr., a priest of the diocese of Spokane, WA.  When O’Donnell’s picture appeared in a local paper, thirty-nine year old Tim Corrigan asked Cheryl, his wife of 16 years, to read the article. Cheryl suspected Tim had suffered some sort of abuse as a student at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, but her husband had denied it. 

     That day in August he finally admitted the horrible truth and then left for work.  By noon, Tim Corrigan, father of three boys, was dead.  His suicide note read, “No one is to blame.”    

A troubled seminarian

     From his youth, Patrick O’Donnell had been troubled with a sexual attraction to teenage boys.  In Kenmore’s St. Thomas Seminary, the problem persisted; he admitted it to his spiritual advisors and received counseling, but he continued to molest boys. O’Donnell says he was molested by a priest who was later dismissed for sexual misconduct.  Before ordination, the seminary faculty wrote a cautionary note regarding O’Donnell’s “over interest in youth,” but proceeded in 1971, to ordain Father Pat, a personable young man and Vietnam veteran.   

     From the beginning, many of the young priest's assignments gave him direct access to boys:  coach, youth minister, Boy Scout Chaplain; O’Donnell’s behavior became a constant source of anxiety for himself and the Church.  

     Before he was transferred to Assumption in 1974 (Tim Corrigan’s parish),  O’Donnell’s former pastor, Father Walter Abel, wrote the Spokane Diocesan Personnel Board regarding Pat’s problem, which was referred to as “a pediatrician complex,” and recommended professional treatment.  Father William Skylstad was a member of the board.  

     Only three weeks later, citing O’Donnell’s resentful behavior which his pastor claimed is “fast leaking out to the parishioners through his public statements,”  Father Abel insisted the board “definitely move Pat O’Donnell” to another post.  Spokane’s Bishop, Bernard Topel, transferred O’Donnell to Assumption parish where he became Skylstad’s assistant and with whom he lived for two years. By 1976, Skylstad had become Chancellor of the diocese.  

Unable to remember

      Despite the fact that Skylstad had a prominent role in the Spokane Diocese and despite the fact that his assistant, Fr. O’Donnell was continuously in trouble,  (numerous allegations were made against O’Donnell), today Bishop Skylstad is unable to recall very much about the past.  

     Other minds are not so cloudy.  Seventy-eight year old Assumption parishioner Rita Flynn, mother of eleven, and daily communicant, says she told Skylstad on three occasions about O’Donnell’s sexually-deviant activity. 

     Flynn learned of the abuse from her sons. A 16 year-old altar boy told one of Flynn’s sons that O’Donnell had molested him. Flynn arranged for the altar boy to talk to Skylstad, a conversation that took place in Skylstad’s car.  After the disclosure, nothing was done about O’Donnell until Flynn’s husband threatened to tell the whole parish. O’Donnell was subsequently sent to Seattle for treatment.  

     During his 2 1/2 year treatment program, O’Donnell earned a doctorate of psychology from the University of Washington.  While in Seattle, O’Donnell was assigned to St. Paul’s parish and school.  

     Three men have come forward to allege O’Donnell abused them as minors while he was receiving treatment, charges that allow law suits to be brought against the Seattle diocese. Upon completion of his treatment, O’Donnell continued to serve in Washington parishes until he was removed from the ministry in 1985.      

  Flynn recalls Skylstad had an uncanny ability to remember names, people and even important dates; however, Bishop Skylstad says he does not remember meeting with the altar boy.   

     O’Donnell has admitted to that particular molestation and to that of 11 other boys, three of whom were molested in the rectory where he lived with Skylstad.  During his 15 years as a priest, O’Donnell victimized more boys at Assumption parish than at any other time.  

     In a November 16th Seattle Times article, staff reporters claim “Skylstad's failure to stop O'Donnell, even after receiving complaints, is a key allegation in five lawsuits against Skylstad, O’Donnell and the diocese.”     

The bottom line

     In 2002-03, the Spokane diocese’s financial report states it spent about $625,000 to resolve victims’ claims.  More than half went to legal fees.  

    Approximately two dozen of O’Donnell’s alleged victims are seeking damages.  Among the defendants is a widow with the initials T. C.  Skylstad has telephoned and sent a letter to the Corrigan family with his apologies. A second family has filed a lawsuit on behalf of their son who committed suicide after revealing he was abused by O’Donnell.

     Following the disclosure of the lawsuits, Skylstad returned to Assumption parish and faced the parishioners. He apologized on behalf of the Church and then turned to speak of a new clergy-abuse policy.  

     Members of the assembled lay Catholics simultaneously voiced their outrage and grief.  There  seemed little resolution at the end of the evening. Subsequently, Skylstad has met with some of the victims and, contrary to Vatican wishes, released the names of priests who have been accused of abuse.

     As law suits piled up, the dioceses of Spokane and Seattle asked the courts to dismiss those alleging sexual abuse by priests on constitutional grounds.  In June 2004, the motion was rejected by a Superior Court judge. Lawyers for the victims accuse Skylstad of filing for bankruptcy to escape payment of claims.   

     Victims' lawyers often claim they initially ask for enormous sums for the purpose of disallowing dioceses to “settle and silence,” thus maintaining the secrecy that allows the perpetuation of abusive behavior.   

     The Spokane diocese has received complaints from more than 125 people. More than half of the allegations are attributed to O’Donnell and one other priest.  The diocese admits more accusations may be forthcoming.  

     On Jan 15, 2004, Patrick O’Donnell surrendered his state psychology license.  The state had been investigating charges of abuse against O’Donnell for a couple of years.  Until 2002, he had been treating patients 12 and older at a clinic in Bellevue. 

 Cecilia H. Martin, The Catholic Advocate

Material for this article was obtained from the archives of the Seattle Times online and from court documents.