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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
H. Martin, The Catholic Advocate
for this article was obtained from the archives of the Seattle Times
online and from court documents.