Woman sues priest, alleges abuse during 6-year affair

A King County woman who claims she followed a priest here from Kansas City is now suing him, his religious order and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, alleging the priest coerced her into a sexual affair and was physically and emotionally abusive during a six-year relationship.

In the civil suit filed this week in King County Superior Court, the woman claims she told Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett about the affair and abuse three years ago. She also claims she told the priest's provincial superior about the abuse in 1996. Neither seemed surprised or concerned, she claims in the lawsuit.

The woman is identified only as Jane Doe in court documents. Her attorney, David Mason of Bellevue, gave her age only as middle-aged.

Seattle Archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant said he was not aware of the case and that Brunett was not immediately available for comment.

The Seattle Times is not identifying the priest because as of yesterday the defendants had not had a chance to fully respond to the allegations.

Gallant said the priest and the Seattle church in which he is pastor are both under the direct authority of his religious order. According to church law, however, bishops and archbishops also have authority over any Roman Catholic priest ministering within their diocese.

The priest did not return messages left on his phone and at the church rectory.

In the lawsuit, the woman says she turned to the priest while she was in an emotionally weak state after the death of a parent. During a counseling session in his Kansas City, Mo., church, he suggested she needed a hug and kissed her, but apologized when she drew back and promised it would never happen again, the lawsuit contends. Nevertheless, a sexual relationship developed, according to the complaint.

The woman claims in the lawsuit that the priest soon promised to leave the church and marry her. Over time, he began to make excuses for not marrying her, according to the suit, and in late 1995, he began to emotionally and physically abuse her.

The abuse included fits of rage, screaming, choking her, pushing her, and striking her with a door, the suit claims. He even threatened to kill her, Doe claims, all the while ordering her to keep silent about their relationship.

He said "she would never be believed, while he commands great respect and credibility in the parish," the suit claims.

Doe says she learned the priest had destructive relationships with several female parishioners. She also said the priest told her that church authorities were aware of his alleged affairs and, in response, they had transferred him several times.

In late 1996, Doe contacted the provincial superior who had authority over the priest, her lawsuit claims.

She says she told him that priest had abused her and that he had had similar relationships with other female parishioners. In the lawsuit, she says the superior was not surprised or concerned about the disclosures. The superior referred questions to the order's attorney, who could not be reached for comment last night.

The suit claims that the provincial superior arranged for the priest to be transferred from Kansas City to Seattle. The priest was transferred around January 1997, according to the suit. The woman reluctantly agreed to come with him, the lawsuit claims.

The relationship continued in Seattle, and so did the abuse, the suit claims. Doe had at least four more conversations with the provincial superior in which they discussed the ongoing sexual relationship and domestic violence, she said. She claims he said there was little he could do.

Doe also says she contacted the Seattle Archdiocese for guidance, meeting with Brunett in March 1999. She says the priest later told her that his superior and Brunett had requested that he go into counseling, but that he refused.

In May 1999, Doe sought her own counseling through Dr. William Bentley, a behavioral psychologist and state-certified domestic-violence counselor, according to the suit. Later that year, she asked the priest to join her in a meeting, with Bentley acting as a mediator, the suit says. In the meeting, according to the suit, the priest admitted to the relationship, confirmed that he had threatened to kill her, and acknowledged relationships with other female parishioners, the suit says.

The priest also admitted that his superiors had transferred him several times throughout the U.S. because of the relationships, the suit alleges. He also said that Bishop George Thomas, vicar general of the Seattle Archdiocese, met with him to discuss the relationship, the suit states. The priest said the archdiocese was concerned about his relationship with a "mentally unhealthy woman," the suit states.

With Bentley's encouragement, Doe broke off the sexual aspect of the relationship in December 1999, but she claims the emotional abuse continued, according to the suit. The last contact between the two was in April 2000, the suit says. Bentley declined comment yesterday.

Doe is asking for unspecified damages.

Ray Rivera: 206-464-2926 or rayrivera@seattletimes.com.