Archive for Sunday, September 22, 2002

Spokane bishop at center of abuse crisis

September 22, 2002


— Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane was among a group of Roman Catholic leaders who traveled to Rome in April to brief the pope on the child sex abuse scandal rocking the U.S. church.

Five months later, Skylstad's leadership is in question after revelations that a former priest in the Spokane Diocese with ties to Skylstad had a long history of abusing boys.

An attorney for the boys says Skylstad and his predecessor bishops failed to protect children from the Rev. Patrick G. O'Donnell in the 1970s and 1980s.

Skylstad was a priest in Spokane during some of that time but was not elevated to bishop until 1990, after O'Donnell had left.

However, O'Donnell had worked with Skylstad as his associate pastor at Assumption parish in Spokane, and the two priests had shared living quarters in 1974-76.

"He knew children were being abused and he said nothing," said attorney Tim Kosnoff, who is preparing to file a lawsuit against O'Donnell and the Spokane Diocese.

"A person who has exhibited such poor judgment in the past cannot be trusted to lead the church in any capacity out of this morass it's in," he said.

Skylstad said he did not notice much unusual in O'Donnell's behavior during the time they worked together.

In the past, victims of sexual abuse did not come forward, Skylstad said. Most of those making allegations against O'Donnell remain anonymous.

Eight men, who were boys at Catholic parishes in the Spokane Diocese during the 1970s and 1980s, have alleged that O'Donnell molested them or participated in sexually motivated "grooming" behavior. The allegations became public through news articles.

The victims contend the behavior began during O'Donnell's first year as a priest, in 1971, and continued through 1986, his last year of active ministry, the Spokesman-Review reported.

During that time, the newspaper reported, O'Donnell was moved among seven parishes and underwent two lengthy diocese-paid treatment sessions for sexual deviancy.

O'Donnell, who now has a private psychology practice in Bellevue, did not return numerous phone calls for comment from The Associated Press.

The state Board of Psychological Examiners, which licenses and regulates psychologists, has been investigating at least six complaints filed with the Spokane Diocese against him.

Support for Skylstad remains strong, especially since the O'Donnell case involves allegations before Skylstad became bishop, said Patrick McCormick, a religious studies professor at Gonzaga University.

"I think people will judge him mainly by how he deals with it," McCormick said. "He's committed to doing it in a public forum."

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