The pastor at St. James Cathedral resumed the witness stand Thursday in the trial against the Seattle Archdiocese, acknowledging that years ago, the archdiocese put known child molesters back in parishes, following the advice of counselors who treated the abusive priests.
Back then, the Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan testified, church leaders believed child sexual abuse was treatable, if not curable.
“Given what’s known about it now, putting the offending priests back in parishes was the wrong thing to do, he said. “We should be sorry, and we are sorry.”
His testimony came during the trial of a lawsuit filed by two men who said the Seattle Archdiocese didn’t do enough to protect them from Patrick O’Donnell, a former Spokane Diocese priest who served at St. Paul Church in Rainier Beach from 1976-1978.
Then-bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane had sent O’Donnell to Seattle for sexual-deviancy treatment. O’Donnell, who testified earlier this week, has admitted molesting both men when they were children attending St. Paul’s.
Years before the trial, the archdiocese had acknowledged that it allowed child molesters to serve in parishes after professionals said it was OK to do so.
Its policy now is different, calling for it to notify law-enforcement and place an accused priest on administrative leave as soon as an allegation comes in. The policy bars from ministry any priest found to have been credibly accused of even one incident of child sexual abuse.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Pfau asked Ryan if it would have been reasonable back then to warn parishioners about abusive priests.
Ryan said from the standpoint of today, yes. And back then, not telling parishioners was not done for “any sinister reason,” he said.
But Ryan said that during his time on an archdiocesan board dealing with priest personnel issues, no concerns about O’Donnell came before the board, and he had never read documents about O’Donnell in the archdiocese’s “secret archives,” which contain sensitive information about priests.
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, an expert on Catholic Church law, also testified, saying that under church law, Topel should have investigated allegations that came to him about O’Donnell, and that Topel would have been obligated to tell then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen about O’Donnell’s history.
Hunthausen, now retired, is expected to take the stand Monday.