Seattle Times staff reporter
The Archdiocese of Seattle has paid nearly $2.3 million since August to settle five claims brought by people who alleged they were sexually abused decades ago by clergy and parish school personnel.
The settlements, for allegations of abuse occurring in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s, were announced by the archdiocese in November. Three of the five cases involve alleged perpetrators who have since died. They are the only individuals named in an archdiocesan news release.
The settlements, collectively totaling $2,285,000, are the latest of more than 450 cases the archdiocese has paid more than $116 million to settle since the 1980s.
Attorney Darrell Cochran, whose firm has represented scores of clients who’ve alleged clergy abuse, represented a woman who said she was abused at St. Louise Parish School in Bellevue and settled one of the five cases.
The woman, identified by her initials, J.C. in a complaint for sexual abuse, negligence and other damages, was a student at the school around 1980. She accused a parish employee of sexually abusing her throughout her third-grade school year and silencing her with candy. She settled her case for $710,000.
The archdiocese has previously settled cases involving alleged sexual abuse at St. Louise Parish, and Cochran said going public about cases of abuse can encourage other survivors to come forward.
“Shame drives it underground for decades and until there’s a particular disclosure about a particular person you sometimes won’t unearth it, ever,” he said.
The archdiocese also settled a second case of alleged sexual abuse at St. Louise Parish. Caitlin Moulding, archdiocese chief operating officer, said the archdiocese did not name the perpetrator of the two St. Louise cases because the archdiocese “couldn’t make a definitive identification” of the perpetrator or perpetrators during the settlement process.
The survivors’ legal team claims the perpetrator was responsible for both St. Louise cases.
“The fact that the Archdiocese hasn’t wanted to take the steps to identify him as a ‘known abuser’ strikes me as irrelevant,” Cochran said in a statement. “We’ve had this series of cases going for about a year so they have had time to make the determination and, at some point, it’s clear there is a self-interest at play to avoid making the identification.”
The archdiocese also announced settling an allegation of sexual abuse by the late Father John Cornelius at St. Mary and St. Therese parishes in the ’70s when he was an associate pastor. Cornelius, who worked in the Seattle Archdiocese from 1975 to 2002, had more than 20 complaints of sexual abuse lodged against him by the time he was laicized in 2004.
The church also settled a case involving allegations of sexual abuse by Father Barry Ashwell, who is deceased, in approximately 1976 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way.
The archdiocese and the Oblate Fathers also settled a case involving an allegation of sexual abuse in the ’50s by the late Daniel Adamson, who was a teacher at St. Benedict Catholic School in Seattle.
Helen McClenahan, an archdiocese spokesperson, said settlement payments made in the past year have been funded by insurance carriers and the archdiocese’s self-insurance plan.
“This announcement is shared to fulfill the archdiocese’s commitment to ongoing transparency around allegations of abuse, to help people heal and to help the church move forward,” the news release said.
Survivors and legal representatives say the church has a long way to go in being totally transparent about sexual abuse by clergy and other church leaders.
Cochran said the archdiocese only releases names of abusers who have already been publicly accused. He did note the archdiocese gives survivors an opportunity to receive an apology in person.
“I’ve really been impressed by the level of sincerity that they’ve shown in telling these people who were children at the time they were abused ‘We’re sorry and we’re here to make amends,’ ” Cochran said.
Mary Dispenza, the Northwest contact for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said steps the archdiocese has taken toward transparency have all been due to the work of survivors and activists.
“They’re put on the hot seat and they have to do this,” said Dispenza. “That’s not transparency to me.”
At times, details of abuse the archdiocese did not disclose have emerged in lawsuits. In one case, the archdiocese’s required legal disclosures of portions of the secret file kept on one notorious priest, the Rev. Michael Cody, showed the late Seattle Archbishop Thomas Connolly knew Cody was a pedophile but nonetheless moved him from parish to parish.
Archbishop Paul Etienne, who took over as the archdiocese’s chief patriarch in 2019, faced calls of stonewalling last year from Heal Our Church, a Seattle-based alliance of practicing Catholics who seek a public review of how the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandal secretly festered within the parishes of Western Washington.
“To many in the church it is symbolic of deeper issues of clericalism and separation from the faithful,” retired King County Superior Court judge and Heal Our Church steering committee founder Terrence Carroll said. “We are shocked and dismayed by these ongoing revelations and costly settlements.”
Dispenza said releasing the church’s “secret files” — private records detailing clergy abuse — is the only possible way the church can move forward and prevent keeping a survivor’s story captive.
Dispenza, who was 52 years old when she recalled a memory of being raped when she was 7 by a parish priest in Los Angeles, said reading the file on her abuser was part of her healing journey.
“It was my story, and it was free,” Dispenza said. “I could read it, and I can realize that I wasn’t alone, and that this was a bad, bad, bad man.”