Spokane's bishop names priests accused of abuse

SPOKANE — In apparent defiance of Vatican wishes, Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad yesterday released the names of five priests in the Spokane Diocese who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children.

Skylstad, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was releasing the names under guidelines established in June by U.S. bishops dealing with a sexual-abuse crisis in the church.

Last week, Skylstad and other American churchmen went to the Vatican to brief Pope John Paul II about the U.S. church's new policies, which the Vatican opposed as possible violations of universal church law.

All five of the priests Skylstad identified had been removed from ministry, in some cases as long ago as 1980, he said.

"All the alleged abuse incidents occurred at least 15 years ago and action was taken to remove these men from ministry when the diocese became aware of the allegations," Skylstad said in a news release.

"These cases have been turned over to local law-enforcement authorities," he said.

Deputy Spokane Police Chief Al Odenthal said the cases will be investigated to determine whether charges can be brought. The statute of limitations on sexual abuse is three years.

The five priests, who have not been charged with any crimes, are James O'Malley, who was removed from ministry in 1989; Theodore Bradley, removed this year; Art Mertens, removed in 1989; Reinard Beaver, removed in 1983; and Bernard Oosterman, who resigned from ministry in 1980.

According to local members of the national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), O'Malley served in Chewelah, Stevens County, and Rosalia, Whitman County, and in the chancery in Spokane. Bradley served in the Spokane Valley. Mertens served in Walla Walla. Beaver served at churches in Spokane and a seminary in Colbert, Spokane County.

Little information was immediately available about Oosterman.

Mike Ross, 48, a co-founder of the Spokane chapter of SNAP, said he was pleased the names were released.

"We're delighted they are starting to move in the right direction to uncover the cover-up," Ross said.

"People directly affected by these perpetrators can now have some justice in their lives."

As previously disclosed in lawsuits, another former Spokane priest, Patrick O'Donnell, resigned in 1985.

O'Donnell is a defendant in several Spokane County Superior Court lawsuits that allege the Spokane diocese knew he was a serial sexual predator for decades but still allowed him to serve in several parishes. Skylstad is named as a defendant in the lawsuits.

Skylstad encouraged any victims of sexual abuse to contact the Spokane diocese.

"I especially appeal to the Catholic community and to the broader community to have empathy and compassion for victims and their families as well as for the offenders and their families," Skylstad said.

Spokesman Bill Gallant said the Seattle Archdiocese has released the names of those priests who have had accusations lodged against them that the review committee found credible. Those names included the Revs. John Cornelius and Dennis Champagne, both of whom resigned from active ministry earlier this year.

Years ago, the archdiocese had named the Rev. James McGreal, who currently has several lawsuits pending against him; and Paul Conn, a former priest with the archdiocese.

American bishops acted in June after a series of sex-abuse allegations against priests and reports that their superiors had tried to cover up wrongdoing by moving offenders from parish to parish.

The new policies call on bishops to remove from active ministry any priest who has ever been the target of a "credible" accusation of child sex abuse and forces them to report any accusation to law-enforcement authorities.

They also remove a statute of limitations for abuse claims, saying a guilty priest will be relieved of his ministry for "even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor — past, present or future."

The Vatican refused last week to put its stamp of approval on the U.S. plan. It declared the provisions confusing, ambiguous and "difficult to reconcile" with church law.

Earlier this month, Skylstad had said that releasing the names of priests accused of sexual abuse would serve no purpose. But that decision was criticized at a series of public meetings at parishes in Eastern Washington.

Skylstad has previously acknowledged the abuse of up to 30 children in the past 30 years by up to five priests.