By Pia K. Hansen
Ever since the first allegations were made against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, survivors of the alleged abuse have repeatedly accused the diocese of not doing enough and of dragging its feet on sharing information about the accused priests.
But the diocese sees it otherwise.
"We are doing everything we can to keep the process moving," says the Fr. Steven Dublinski, a spokesman for the diocese.
Dublinski says there have been sex abuse cases reported within the church but not with clergy, adding that the last incident reported to the diocese took place in the late '80s.
Complaints filed today are turned over to the police and Child Protective Services.
The diocese has also compiled a flier that features contact information and explains how a complaint against a priest is handled. This flier - which is published both in English and Spanish - also lists phone numbers for community organizations, such as Lutheran Social Services and the Spokane Child Abuse Network, which can be of help to survivors of sexual abuse.
"The programs and guidelines were all in place already. We just compiled them so it's easier to find out what to do," says Mary Butler, who is in charge of assisting alleged victims who come forward to the diocese.
But she doesn't make the decision to make an accused priest's name public. That is made by the Diocesan Review Board, on a case-by-case basis.
"People call me, but I haven't gotten any calls about current abuse situations. It's cases that happened a long time ago," says Butler. "When people call me, we offer to pay for counseling -- and we help them connect with counselors also, if people say they were abused in a different diocese."
Investigating cases within the Spokane Diocese is usually not that difficult, says Butler.
"We are usually able to do those investigations pretty rapidly," she explains. "We talk to people who were around that priest or the parish, when the alleged abuse happened. Yes, it can be hard to find people who can remember exactly what they were doing 20 to 30 years ago, but usually we are successful."
Butler says she always encourages alleged victims to come forward in person.
"Sometimes people are very hesitant to talk about what happened, but then I encourage them to talk to a counselor, to kind of put a toe in the water, even if they don't want to talk to me right now," she says. "Sometimes all people will give me is a few dates and names. But that's fine. They can call me back when they're ready to talk, or I can call them. Basically, I'll go anywhere to meet or talk, just to make it easier on the victims."
When it comes to making the names of perpetrators public, the diocese has to take the priest into consideration as well - especially if the priest is dead, as has been the case with the handful of names released so far.
"It's actually more difficult to release names of deceased priests, since they aren't here to say anything," says Diocese Attorney Michael C. Geragthy. "There has to be a credible allegation against the priest, and the victim also has to agree that the name is made public."
Neither Geragthy or Dublinski will explain exactly what it is that makes one allegation credible and another not so.
"As for the names we have released, those priests all had more than one allegation against them. That certainly helps," says Geragthy.
As part of the settlement agreement, some settlements - and therefore the names of the priests involved in them - will remain confidential.
Butler supports the release of as many priests' names as possible, once it's established that complaints against them hold water.
"Releasing a priest's name may trigger other people looking at it and saying 'Oh, that's what happened' or 'That's what happened to my brother or my friend,'" says Butler. "The victims have to approve that we release the name of the priest. But if they say no the first time around, we may come back and ask them for permission again a couple of months later."
Mary Butler can be reached at 353-0442 or via e-mail at [email protected]
Publication date: 1/22/04