By Paul Seebeck
* Editor's Note -- This has been a difficult story for The Inlander to get into print. Not only is it a sensitive subject that has been extremely painful for everyone involved, but it also has a personal edge for all of us here. One of the central figures in this story is Mike Corrigan, a full-time Inlander employee. Another, Dan Egan, is affiliated with the paper as a freelance writer. Those connections have given us access to the Corrigan family's story, but they could also create suspicion among readers that we are biased.
In the end, however, we decided to pursue the story. We think the lessons it may be able to teach the community outweigh any concerns over our level of fairness. For the record, Mike Corrigan had no part in the creation of this story, and we were not influenced in our decision to publish it by his family's lawyers, either. As always, we have made every attempt to present this story in as fair and straightforward a manner as possible, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. Only you can say if we have succeeded.
The story you are about to read offers up one version of the human toll of sexual abuse. There are many other people dealing with the same issues, whether at the hands of a trusted friend, a family member or an authority figure like a priest. Abusing kids is a societal problem not at all unique to the Catholic Church. Readers should remember, too, that Patrick O'Donnell has never been convicted of anything; what follows are allegations.
We welcome your letters on this story. Send them to [email protected]
On August 29, 2002, Randy Coston was getting into his car in Pullman, to return to Spokane after a sales trip to the Palouse.
"I remember looking at the clock," says Coston. "It was 12:03." When his cell phone rang, it was a friend calling to talk about the story in the newspaper that morning -- a story about a person he preferred to forget, Father Patrick O'Donnell.
As Coston chatted about the latest scandal surrounding O'Donnell, he says he felt a strange sensation start to wash over him. Next, he called his wife. It was 12:10.
"As I began talking to her, I had this overwhelming thought come into my mind," Coston recalls of that pivotal day. "This can't occur anymore. Whatever it takes, you must help to stop it."
What Coston didn't know was that at precisely that same time, one of his best friends, Tim Corrigan, was ending his life after only 39 years.
In the hours, days, weeks and months to follow, Corrigan's widow Cheryl, his friends and family all came to the conclusion that the memory of O'Donnell triggered his suicide. There's no proof of what really led Tim Corrigan to his final decision -- a hastily scribbled note left behind only read, "It's nobody's fault" -- but the event has led to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Diocese of Spokane, one of many alleging that the Church did not do enough to protect kids in parish schools from sexual predators.
O'Donnell was the associate pastor at Assumption Parish on Spokane's North Side from 1974-76, when Corrigan attended the church's Catholic school. Of all the allegations being made about priests committing crimes against children in the Inland Northwest, O'Donnell's has become the most notorious. In August 2002, the former priest was in the news again, as allegations about his molesting young boys were coming to light.
It appears O'Donnell will remain free of criminal prosecution since statutes of limitations have expired. Still, his alleged behavior may be costly to the church in Spokane, where $1 million has already been spent on lawyers and settlements dealing with the 87 complaints leveled against the diocese for abuse alleged to have been committed by priests since 1950. Millions more are expected to be paid out, as only a handful of the cases have been settled. So far, the diocese reports that there are 25 men who have come forward about O'Donnell; in addition, there is a pending lawsuit against the Diocese of Seattle related to O'Donnell as well.
But of all the allegations that have surfaced in Spokane, the Corrigan case may be the most explosive, and not just because it involves a dead man, a widow and three fatherless children, ages 5-12. Tim Kosnoff and Mike Pfau, the Seattle-based lawyers for Cheryl Corrigan and others, clearly want to focus the case as much on Bishop William Skylstad as on O'Donnell, because, as they plan to argue in court, Skylstad had chances to stop O'Donnell and failed to do so.
The Diocese of Spokane claims that once allegations against O'Donnell were made, he was removed from Assumption Parish. Skylstad is a rising star in the ranks of American bishops, in part for his approach to the issue of abuse that has wracked the church in the United States for years now. Skylstad will be on the ballot to become leader of the powerful Council of American Bishops in November.
But for the first time, as their case winds its way to the courtroom -- or, more likely, a settlement, since very few of these cases have ever made it to trial -- the family and friends of Tim Corrigan are telling their stories about what happened all those years ago.
"Look who's in the paper" -- "The last memory I have is of him over the breakfast table that morning," recalls Tim Corrigan's wife Cheryl. "He was saying, 'Look who's in the paper.' I said, 'That's Father Pat.' He said, 'Read the article out loud.'"
She read it quickly, skimming over the details.
"Read the rest of the article!" she recalls him saying.
The article talked about a man in Rosalia, Wash., south of Spokane, who had committed suicide, allegedly because of abuse at the hands of Father Pat O'Donnell.
"Were you abused?" She remembers asking.
Tim Corrigan got up, walked to the kitchen counter and set his bowl down.
Cheryl Corrigan says she remembers the conversation as if it happened yesterday.
"I said, 'Tim, did you ever get naked in front of Father Pat?' Did Father Pat touch your privates?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Tim, you just told me you weren't abused. But getting naked in front of Father Pat, and him touching your private parts is abuse.'"
After brushing his teeth, Tim came back in the kitchen, gave her a kiss and said goodbye.
"I'd been asking him about abuse since 1986, when the articles about O'Donnell's abuse first surfaced. He would always say 'Nothing affected me.' I'd never made the connection," Corrigan says. "But when he left, I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh. He's been abused, and he has to go to work.'"
After taking a quick shower, Cheryl kept thinking she should call Tim, but she had a busy morning. Then, after grabbing a quick bite to eat, off she went to kindergarten orientation with her five-year-old daughter. When she came home at 1:45 pm, the chaplain from the police department was waiting for her in the driveway.
"I think I know why" -- "The worst nightmare of any parent is hearing your child has died," says Ann Corrigan, Tim's mom.
She arrived at Tim and Cheryl's house that afternoon, after receiving a call that there was a family emergency. When she heard the news -- not only that her son was gone, but that it was suicide -- she dropped to the floor.
"That's when I saw the article in my mind, and the picture of Father Pat from the newspaper that morning," she says. "I just kept looking at him and screaming, 'No, no, no.'"
When Tim's older brother Mike got to Cheryl's house just before 3 pm, suicide wasn't even on the radar screen of his imagination. He thought maybe his Dad had a heart attack or that one of Tim's kids had been hit by a car. When he got the news, he felt as if someone had cut him off at the knees. "It was like somebody dropping sand bags on me," says Corrigan. "I collapsed. It just knocked me out."
But the reverberations of shock were just beginning; they would continue into the late afternoon, evening hours and past midnight.
On the drive home from Pullman, Randy Coston had a couple of hours to think about the secret of his past that haunted him. Just after 5 pm, he was at home when the phone rang. It was another one of his best childhood friends, Mike Miller. He'd called Tim Corrigan to try to get all of the childhood buddies together, the gang who had gone to Assumption when Father Pat was there. He'd wanted to talk to Tim about the latest allegations leveled against O'Donnell in the morning newspaper.
"Tim is no longer with us," Miller told Coston. "Randy, Tim killed himself."
Those last words still haunt Coston. "Tim killed himself. Why? Mike, I'll be right up."
As Miller waited for Coston, he wondered if this would be the night Coston would finally reveal what happened to him all those years ago -- that one night when Coston got stuck alone with Father Pat and his friend George Robey. Miller recalled his own experiences with O'Donnell.
"I was in 5th, 6th and 7th grade," says Miller. "O'Donnell put all of us in the gym after track practice, and made us wash our genitals with a bucket of water on stage totally naked."
The boys -- Miller, Tim Corrigan and others -- came to know this practice as a ritual, where Father Pat showed them how "to cleanse their genitals."
Miller also remembered what it was like going from Assumption to Gonzaga Prep. Boys who had gone to St. Mary's -- another local Catholic school, where O'Donnell served from 1973-74 before being transferred to Assumption -- would laugh at them, saying in the blunt terms used among high school boys, "You got the fag moved over to your school."
"The kids all knew what was going on," says Miller. "Back then, we didn't question what the priests were doing. Kids had no avenue except dark humor to articulate this."
When Coston arrived at the Miller house, his first words to Miller and his wife were, "I think I know why Tim would do it."
As they talked, Coston and Miller knew they had to go Cheryl's. When they got to her house, in the midst of shock and grief, she began telling them how Tim had reacted to the morning newspaper, and how he had looked when she finally read those two sentences about the man in Rosalia who had committed suicide.
"We were all coming to this conclusion about why Tim had taken his life, and yet I was still hanging onto the hope that I could take my secret to the grave," says Coston. "I turned to Cheryl and said, Mike [Miller] and I have one more trip to make tonight."
After holding onto the secret for more than a quarter of a century, Randy Coston was about to tell somebody what happened to him on a late summer night on Coeur d'Alene Lake.
"Randy and Mike came over," recalls Mike Corrigan of the end of the day his brother died. "I was getting ready for bed, it was midnight, and we were all trying to figure it out. Then Randy lost it. He didn't want anybody to know what had happened to him."
Yet he finally told them his darkest secret: George Robey, a friend of Father Pat's, had sexually abused him. Robey, a South Hill businessman, committed suicide in 1986, just after reports of O'Donnell's alleged abuse became public in the newspaper.
"We all kind of knew Randy had suffered, we knew that he had stayed that one night at the boat," says Dan Egan, who was one of Coston, Miller and Tim Corrigan's boyhood buddies at Assumption.
Egan didn't hear the news of Corrigan's suicide until the next morning. He didn't know yet that Coston had told his secret, but immediately a memory began turning over in his mind. "I remember we were in the car when the Boston stuff came out," says Egan of the scandals that have rocked the Massachusetts city. "I was reading the newspaper and asked Tim what he thought Randy might have thought about all of this. He didn't want to talk about it, saying, 'I don't think we should bring it up.'"
"I got caught alone" -- The memories of abuse from that one weekend still shadow Coston, who had moved to Spokane from Yakima earlier in that summer of 1976. He was going into 8th grade as the new kid, but he had become fast friends with Tim Corrigan, Miller and Egan at football practice. Late that summer, the four boys spent the day boating with Robey and O'Donnell, who had already been transferred from Assumption to Seattle by church authorities for alleged sexual misconduct but remained in Spokane through the end of the summer.
Coston had gotten hurt, and O'Donnell had given him a back rub. When he was changing, he caught Robey looking at him through the portholes of the boat. He remembers the giggling and seeing both O'Donnell and Robey do the same to Tim.
"It haunts me that I got caught alone that night," says Coston. "Father Pat said to me, 'You're hurt. I'll go back with your buddies and come back in the morning to get you.'"
Now it was just Robey and the 13-year-old Coston on the boat. Robey told him where to sleep -- in a small cabin of the boat, which had only a narrow opening. Randy lay down in his underwear on his left side. Robey started to rub his back. Coston remembers pulling away.
"What are you doing?" he cried.
"You hurt your back today, I'm trying to rub it."
Coston froze as Robey fondled his genitals. Afterwards, Robey left him alone in the pitch-dark night with his thoughts.
"I laid there and had a long cry," recalls Coston.
To add insult to injury, Coston says O'Donnell and Robey took him to breakfast the next morning. As he sat staring at his omelet, he heard them laughing and, he claims, talking about their latest conquest.
"That, to me, was when I lost my identity," says Coston. "I lost my virginity. Whoever I was left. I began to create a world in which I could live alone and let no one else in."
"Why didn't he confide in me?" -- Mike Corrigan knew that his brother and Coston were often together alone when they went places with O'Donnell. On one of those trips, as Coston related, O'Donnell took the boys to a lake cabin to go in the hot tub. "He told us we had to take our shorts off because our moms washed our swimsuits in soap and it would ruin the hot tub," says Coston. "He was also naked, sitting next to Tim. At times, his hands were under the water, at times he had his left arm around Tim."
When Mike Corrigan heard that story, he began to become convinced that his brother's suicide was linked to O'Donnell. But it was difficult to accept.
"Knowing that was the reason, I felt, 'Oh, shit,'" says Corrigan. "We lived right next to each other. I couldn't believe he never would've told me. Why didn't he confide in me?"
The unanswered question lingers in the air, begging another question: Why didn't Mike Corrigan tell his brother Tim about his own abuse?
"At the time, I didn't understand what it was," says Corrigan. "I thought O'Donnell just made a pass at me, like it was more a homosexual thing."
Mike Corrigan's encounter with O'Donnell happened at the end of his 8th-grade year at Assumption in 1976. (Mike was a year ahead of Tim and Randy.) There was a class party scheduled for the weekend. Mike Corrigan and four other boys from his class were invited to go to Diamond Lake a day early to go four-wheeling with Father Pat. The rest of the class would join them in the morning at the cabin, which belonged to one of the kid's parents. It had a main room and a separate bedroom and bath.
"O'Donnell was pretty aggressive and over the top," recalls Corrigan. "I remember folding out the couch in the main room getting ready for bed. The guys in the other room were goofing off, throwing a ball around. Father Pat got into bed with me in the main room. It felt weird."
As Mike and Father Pat watched TV together, O'Donnell placed his hand right on Corrigan's hipbone.
"He starting rubbing it, saying, 'Your hip is so bony and thin,'" Mike remembers. "He kept doing it."
In his head, Corrigan remembers thinking, "I don't want you to go any further," but he felt paralyzed and didn't dare speak. But as O'Donnell's hand inched further down below his waistband, he jumped up and joined the others.
That night, Corrigan recalls that O'Donnell slept in the separate bedroom with one of the other boys. "I remember looking at that closed door. I didn't sleep much that night. I was afraid for him."
From what Corrigan has since learned about so-called "grooming" behavior among pedophiles, he believes O'Donnell was testing him. Once he bolted, O'Donnell shifted his attention to other boys.
"Any harm he may have caused" -- By the late summer of 1976, Patrick O'Donnell had been transferred to St. Paul's Parish in Seattle. According to Spokane Diocese records, he was sent there "for personal reasons and further studies." But in later legal documents, the diocese stated that "It is believed O'Donnell was removed from Assumption Parish and placed on leave by Bishop Topel to receive therapy and counseling after a report was received from Msgr. Donnelly that O'Donnell had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with an adolescent male at Assumption."
While at St. Paul's, O'Donnell entered a program for treatment of sexual deviancy and began work on a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Washington. His dissertation topic? Encouraging trust between children and adults. Essentially, he studied to become an expert on getting kids to trust him.
Later, his private practice was focused on kids and families as well. How he was licensed to become a psychologist is something of a mystery, however, as the state Department of Licensing received complaints stemming from the young boys' 1980 boat trip. The resulting investigation, however, only resulted in a one-year suspension.
While at St. Paul's from 1976-78, the stories of students there are identical to those of students at Assumption: sunset cruises on the lake, skinny-dipping, group showers. Jim Biteman, now a machinist at Boeing, told the Seattle Weekly in 2002 that an impromptu visit from O'Donnell turned into a massage that turned into inappropriate fondling. Biteman wound up suing the Diocese of Seattle over that and other episodes. Although the Diocese of Spokane says O'Donnell was sent to Seattle to get treatment, he was apparently regarded as just another parish priest once there. O'Donnell's head priest at St. Paul's, the Rev. Gerald Lovett, told Seattle Weekly that he was never informed of O'Donnell's alleged sickness.
Just last week, in an agreement with the state related to complaints against him, O'Donnell agreed to surrender his license to practice as a psychologist. And while he was officially removed from the ministry by the Catholic Church in 1986, just after allegations about O'Donnell landed in the newspaper, he has not yet been formally de-clericized. Diocese officials say, however, that he can never again serve as a pastor. Now 61, O'Donnell resides in Bellevue's ritzy Yarrow Point neighborhood.
In 2002, O'Donnell's attorney, John Bergmann, issued a statement on his client's behalf, acknowledging no guilt, but expressing "remorse for any harm he may have caused because of any conduct he may have engaged in."
"We still have more work to do" -- While O'Donnell is not even required to issue vague apologies, the Diocese of Spokane has to answer to its flock -- and its accusers. Seeing these allegations through, from initial reporting to settlement, is a very fine line to walk. If the diocese strikes too defensive a posture, it can be viewed as fighting its own people and re-victimizing the victims. If it just opens its checkbooks, it will fall out of compliance with the rules of the insurance companies that may pay some of the settlements, and it could open itself up to anybody with any story.
The Church faces the challenge of standing tall and reminding people of its status as one of the region's most potent charitable organizations (not to mention educator of tens of thousands of young people), even as it must apologize and offer reparations for its role in such damaging behavior. After preaching forgiveness for centuries, now the Church is certainly finding out now how humbling it can be to ask for forgiveness.
"We're sorry about every single person who has been abused," says Diocese of Spokane Vicar General, the Rev. Steven Dublinski, "and we want to express that in any way we can."
Dublinski says when people come to the diocese offices to share their stories of alleged abuse, formal apologies are given to them. In other cases, apologies have been made at depositions.
To negotiate a safe passage through these rough waters, and to bring much-needed changes to the Church, Dublinski says the diocese has implemented strict new rules and is following them closely. A panel has been convened to sort through the allegations, while new controls in the parish schools are designed to prevent any of this from ever happening again.
"We will always be dealing with this issue," says Dublinski of the profound impact the sex abuse cases have had on the Church. Since the early 1980s, students at parish schools have received sex education, including the kinds of "good touch, bad touch" content absent from Catholic schools in the 1970s. And the church is stepping that program up even more, in hopes of empowering kids to say no and report abuse to parents -- something few parents were worrying about in the 1970s.
"The whole culture has got that problem," says Dublinski of general ignorance about pedophiles in that era. "We all handled it wrong 20 years ago. Now we know better; we wish we had known better earlier."
The church is also screening its candidates for priesthood to discern any unhealthy sexual behavior.
And as for what to do about new allegations popping up -- and there haven't been any since the late 1980s in Spokane -- Dublinski says Church policy is clear: "The first step is to report it to the police and to Child Protective Services. Then we let law enforcement take the lead on the actual investigation.
"This has been an unpleasant instigator of positive reform," adds Dublinski, who served with O'Donnell at St. John Vianney in 1985. "But the job of reform is not done. We still have more work to do."
"I just feel totally betrayed" --- Still, victims and their families are plenty mad at the way the church handled O'Donnell after learning of the allegations against him. Sure, they blame O'Donnell, but if the Church's new policy had been in place back in the 1970s, O'Donnell may have been in jail before he had a chance to abuse kids like Tim Corrigan. Or, if the Church had simply notified parents in June 1976 that O'Donnell was being treated for potential pedophilia, he never would have had access to kids over that summer, when Tim Corrigan and Randy Coston's abuse is alleged to have occurred.
"No, there was no big announcement made at any time," admits Michael Geraghty, an attorney for the Diocese of Spokane, of the immediate aftermath of the problems with O'Donnell at Assumption.
Again, the focus shifts to Bishop Skylstad in a sort of what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it way. Skylstad was the pastor at Assumption when O'Donnell served there, and they even lived in the same rectory.
By the summer of 1976, Skylstad had received a promotion from then-Bishop Bernard Topel, and he became Chancellor of the Diocese. Monsignor John Donnelly replaced Skylstad at Assumption in June 1976. Donnelly claims that he received a complaint about O'Donnell abusing a boy sexually two days after he arrived. He reported the information to the diocese. Within days, O'Donnell was put on leave and arrangements were made for him to get treatment in Seattle.
So why did Skylstad's earlier complaints lead to no action against O'Donnell, while Donnelly's resulted in him being removed from the parish? Dublinski says Skylstad's complaints to Bishop Topel were not as serious as Donnelly's. But in the end, within the church hierarchy at that time, it was really Bishop Topel's call. (Topel has since died.)
"Topel was a loner," says Geraghty. "He didn't share what he was thinking or what he was going to do with anyone. He kept a lot to himself."
To counter the diocese's explanation, Kosnoff and Pfau provided The Inlander with passages from the deposition of Rita Flynn, who had children at Assumption in the '70s. Flynn claims her son Packy told her about "the cleansing of the genitals" ritual when he was in 8th grade at Assumption in 1975, months before O'Donnell was removed from the parish.
Flynn claims she called Skylstad the next day and made an appointment to talk with him about her son's allegations.
"I told him exactly what Packy told me," Flynn's deposition reads. "Packy had told Maura [her 7th-grade daughter] there was no chance she could join the track team because it was boys only, and they had to cleanse themselves after track practice."
Flynn says she asked Skylstad if he was aware of this "cleansing of genitals" ritual? Flynn says that Skylstad told her "he wasn't aware of it" and that "he didn't think it was appropriate." He promised Flynn he would talk to Father Pat about it, which he did, telling her later that afternoon "Rita, I've just talked with Father Pat, and that will not happen again."
But about a month later, she says she was back in Skylstad's office: "I said I didn't know whether he was aware of the fact that Father Pat had the guys strip when they would go on these little prayer weekends, or whatever they were, retreat weekends, and that they would be streaking. And I said, 'Jolly good fun and all that, but Dan says that... the guys know he's attracted to them, sexually attracted to them.'
"[Skylstad] said he would discuss it more thoroughly with Father Pat. And again, he said, 'And I'll let you know what we decide on and what' -- and he did. It was pretty much the same as the first time, that he called me back and said he had spoken with Pat at length about this matter and that there would be no more streaking and that Father Pat felt that his relationship with the boys was an average or normal one."
In legal documents provided by the diocese, Skylstad recalls seeking guidance from Topel about the two complaints against O'Donnell, and he followed Topel's instructions.
Later, the diocese decided that O'Donnell was cured and put him back to work as pastor of Rosalia's Holy Rosary Parish in 1979, where at other allegations later surfaced.
"I just feel totally betrayed by O'Donnell and the hierarchy of the church," says Terry Corrigan, Tim's father. "I don't know what kind of constraints Skylstad was laboring under, but at what point does obedience to obey the bishop yield to doing what is right? He should have been reporting this stuff to police. The cover-up was as insidious as the perversion itself. "
"Part of what I hope to change," says Tim Kosnoff, one of the lawyers working on the Corrigan case, "is that atmosphere that made O'Donnell prince of the city, with access to boys because of his numerous appointments."
Along with providing The Inlander with a statement on his recollections, published here, the bishop is scheduled to be deposed for the Corrigan lawsuit in late February.
"I don't really want the money" -- How do you put a dollar figure on all that has been lost? How does one ever begin to understand what it is like, as a boy, to be abused by a man who represents God? There are no easy or even satisfying answers, but the legal system offers the next best thing: justice. Not surprisingly, the courts are where this whole tragic mess has wound up. Mike Corrigan, Randy Coston, Mike Miller, Dan Egan, Cheryl Corrigan and others who represent the estate of Tim Corrigan are all co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the diocese alleging abuse by O'Donnell.
"Clearly, the most direct impact of all the abuse was the loss of my best friend," says Egan, who claims O'Donnell made sexual advances on him, too. "I feel anger for the loss of Tim, and for the people in the Church who were directly involved in our situation. My motivation for putting my name on the lawsuit was for Cheryl. She lost her husband. I felt like we needed to do something. I really don't want the money.
"I used to enjoy the structure and tradition of the Catholic Church," continues Egan, a recreational therapist. "The thrust of it is, I lost my faith, my trust, my wonder of what could be."
Mike Miller doesn't go to church anymore either. "It's almost like we were brainwashed," says Miller, who has been a homebuilder for 20 years. "This man is like God -- how could he do anything wrong? You don't realize how it's affecting you until later. I'm on an antidepressant. He was like a predator. Yet he got moved from church to church. I can't believe they let it go on."
Like his childhood friends from Assumption, Mike Corrigan has suffered through bouts of depression, a loss of faith and a sense of overwhelming sadness.
"My brother couldn't tell anybody, so it helps me that we're suing," says Corrigan. "This is as close as he ... we can get to justice."
Cheryl Corrigan admits that Tim's suicide still confuses her, and that she can't understand why he was so selfish. "The first thing I thought when I found out was, 'The poor, tortured soul,'" says Corrigan. "He was such a gentle spirit and kind man. The abuse was too much for him to think about."
Corrigan says she is convinced her husband would still be alive if those in authority in the Church had protected him as child. "This isn't just about sexual abuse. The Catholic Church turned their heads the other way."
"Bad people prevail if good people don't do something," says Randy Coston. "[The lawsuit] has to do with helping my healing. I've suffered from shame and embarrassment. I've had suicidal thoughts. I'm not doing this out of vengeance, or for money, but there must be accountability. Justice must be served."
Unlike his friends, Coston started going to church again, right after Tim Corrigan died. That development is part of the reason he thinks the tragedy has been an unexpected blessing for him.
"I look back now and I realize I had become so internally focused," says Coston, a senior sales rep for an insurance company. "The impact of the abuse was that I focused on my survival. I was full of shame, guilt. I thought it was my fault. I was paralyzed. I struggled to make decisions professionally. I didn't know how to have a meaningful, intimate relationship.
"The tragic loss of my friend propelled me to come forward," says Coston. "Unfortunately, it took his death to give me a new life."
Ted S. McGregor Jr. contributed to this report.
Patrick O'Donnell -- A Timeline
Patrick O'Donnell is ordained as a priest in his hometown of Spokane after attending St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, Wash.
O'Donnell's first assignment: assistant pastor at St. Peter's in Spokane. He was also named assistant director of youth for the Diocese of Spokane. There is one claim of abuse from 1971 against O'Donnell.
O'Donnell is transferred to St. Mary's in Spokane after becoming the diocese's full-time director of youth ministry. Around this time, Bishop Bernard Topel appointed O'Donnell as the diocese's chaplain of Boy Scouts. There are several claims alleging abuse against O'Donnell from early 1972 until August 1974 .
O'Donnell was given a temporary assignment to St. Augustine Church.
O'Donnell became assistant pastor back at St. Mary's.
O'Donnell transferred to Assumption Parish, where then-Fr. William Skylstad was the pastor. Skylstad says he reported two complaints against O'Donnell to Bishop Bernard Topel during O'Donnell's tenure at Assumption. There are several claims of abuse against O'Donnell from his time at Assumption, including those by the family of Tim Corrigan.
After complaints from Msgr. John Donnelly, who took over as pastor from Skylstad at Assumption, O'Donnell was put on leave by the Diocese of Spokane. Apparently O'Donnell did not leave for his schedule of therapy in Seattle until after the summer of 1976, as boys attending Assumption later charged he abused them at that time.
O'Donnell lived at St. Paul's Parish in Seattle while undergoing two years of treatment for his alleged sickness. His therapist reportedly recommended that he attend classes at the University of Washington, which ultimately led to his career as a family practice therapist. At this time, he was regarded as a regular parish priest, and the Diocese of Seattle says there is a claim related to his behavior dating from this period.
O'Donnell, having earned a doctorate, was returned to the Diocese of Spokane and lived at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.
O'Donnell was transferred by then-Bishop Lawrence Welsh to Holy Rosary Parish in Rosalia, Wash., south of Spokane, where he served as the pastor. At this time, O'Donnell applied for a license to practice as a psychologist in the state of Washington. He received that license in 1980. There are several claims of abuse against O'Donnell from his years in Rosalia.
The state Department of Licensing issues its findings regarding a complaint against O'Donnell about a 1980 case of alleged sexual abuse. His punishment was a one-year suspension of his license; he resumed his practice after the suspension ended.
O'Donnell was appointed as pastor of St. John Vianney Parish back in Spokane. To comply with the state's licensing, in March and September 1985, O'Donnell passed five polygraph tests asking if he had had any inappropriate contact with any of his therapy clients over the previous four years.
Parents at St. John Vianney complained after hearing stories about O'Donnell's behavior from parents in other parishes
and after learning the state had considered revoking his license to practice as a psychologist over a complaint of sex abuse. As a result of the outcry, the diocese put O'Donnell on leave.
The Spokesman-Review published a story based on the concerns of parents at St. John Vianney. Four days later, Bishop Welsh formally removed O'Donnell's ability to function in any capacity as a priest. After this, O'Donnell relocated to Bellevue, Wash., and started a psychology practice.
After hearing O'Donnell was still practicing as a therapist, a parent from St. John Vianney complained to the state Department of Health (by then the regulatory agency overseeing the licensing of psychologists). "Again he has managed to move himself in a position of trust to youth," she wrote. The state responded weeks later, but by not by phone. Instead, the state responded in writing, asking the woman to supply more information. She did not, and O'Donnell's practice continued.
Lawsuits were filed in Spokane County Superior Court against the Diocese of Spokane related to alleged abuse by O'Donnell. In all, 25 men have come forward, involved in five separate lawsuits involving O'Donnell. In July 2003, the Diocese of Spokane settled with one man who had alleged abuse at the hands of O'Donnell. That man's identity is sealed. There were also two complaints filed against O'Donnell with the state Department of Health related to alleged abuse from the late 1970s.
Although O'Donnell had already closed his practice, he reached an agreement with the state of Washington related to complaints against him and turned over his license to practice as a psychologist.
Bishop William Skylstad is scheduled to be deposed in the Corrigan case against the diocese alleging abuse by O'Donnell.
-- Pia K. Hansen and Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Sources: Diocese of Spokane,
Spokane County Superior Court records
Publication date: 1/22/04