Two women sue Yakima Diocese over reported sexual abuse

Yakima Herald-Republic/November 8, 2010

Yakima, Washington - Two women filed a lawsuit Monday against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, alleging they were sexually abused in separate incidents by a priest here in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The priest, Sean Dolan, left the priesthood and the Yakima area in the mid-1970s. He died three years ago in Tacoma.

Also named in the suit is Christopher Breen, another former Yakima priest, who, the women allege, knew the abuse was taking place.

The women, who both still live in the Yakima area, filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court because Breen resides there. They are asking for unspecified damages, in part, to compensate for counseling and medical costs.

Identified only as Girl One and Girl Two in court papers, the two women say they were sexually molested when each was about 16, during the time Dolan was serving as a parish priest at St. Paul Cathedral.

The Rev. Robert Siler, chief of staff for the Yakima Diocese, said Monday that he is not aware of any other complaints made against Dolan.

"It can be difficult to ascertain what happened 30 or 40 years ago, but we certainly want to get to the heart of the matter and help people resolve their complaints," Siler said.

Reached by telephone Monday at his home in Kenmore, Wash., Breen said he would have no comment on the case.

The two women bringing the lawsuit did not know each other, they say, and came forward separately. They met for the first time earlier this year when they were being interviewed by their Seattle lawyer, Tim Kosnoff.

Ordained in Ireland in 1966, Dolan was associate pastor at St. Paul from 1967 to 1975. He was in his early 30s when the alleged abuse occurred. Both women say he invited them to the back door of the St. Paul parish rectory, took them downstairs, gave them alcohol and molested them.

Now in their 50s, Girl One is a health care professional, who attended Yakima public schools, and Girl Two is also a professional woman, who attended Catholic schools in Yakima.

Both say they sought Dolan's help when dealing with emotional problems. What began as a counseling relationship soon turned into a sexual one, they allege.

Girl Two says that Dolan repeatedly molested her from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s and took her alone on out-of-town trips. She was not available to comment further.

Girl One agreed to talk to the Yakima Herald-Republic under the condition of anonymity. The newspaper does not routinely disclose the names of reported sexual abuse victims.

She said she telephoned St. Paul's in September 1972 when she was 16 to talk to a priest because she was distraught about the death of a relative. Dolan answered and agreed to meet with her.

Their meetings became frequent and more personal through the fall, she said. He gave her cigarettes and drank Scotch with her in the rectory basement, she said, and took her to see the movie "The Poseidon Adventure."

"I was an extremely vulnerable young girl," she said. The priest made her feel special and told her how much he loved her, she said. "Now (many years later), I know I was being groomed."

She explained that she had been taught to trust priests explicitly and the way to talk to God was through a priest. "You magnify priests as entities bigger than life," she said.

They began having sex that winter and continued to do so until the following June, when he abruptly broke off the relationship, she said.

Devastated, she said she "buried" the experience and eventually met another man, whom she has been married to for 35 years.

She is coming forward now, she explained, because she thinks there might be other women who feel they were betrayed and abused and blame themselves.

Kosnoff, the two plaintiffs' attorney, believes that there may be other women Dolan victimized.

Breen, who was the pastor at St. Paul's while Dolan served there, is named in the lawsuit for allegedly taking no action against Dolan, for not notifying authorities and for failing to prevent Dolan's access to children.

Breen is a defendant himself in a lawsuit filed by Kosnoff in September 2008 in King County for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenage girl in Yakima between 1968-1972. That case is scheduled to go to trial in January.

In prior testimony to lawyers preparing that case, Breen has said that he saw Dolan sexually molesting a girl in the rectory basement but couldn't identify the girl.

Breen, who left the priesthood more than 30 years ago, served in the Yakima Diocese from 1960 to 1976. After leaving Yakima, he worked as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of King County. In his mid-70s, he is retired and married to a woman he met in Yakima.

Dolan also married after leaving the priesthood and had a son.

Kosnoff contended that the diocese hasn't done enough to combat potential sexual abuse.

"The church isn't doing anything different; there's no reform," he said.

But Siler took strong exception to that view, pointing out that the diocese has not had recent cases confirmed of sexual abuse of minors in many years.

"We can always look for ways to improve, but we've learned a lot and come a long way," Siler said.

Since the clergy abuse scandal broke nationally in Boston in 2002, the Yakima Diocese has confirmed the names of more than a dozen members of the clergy who have served in the diocese and who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse.

The diocese began settling claims in the mid-1980s, for allegations of abuse that mostly date from the 1960s to early 1980s, Siler has previously said.

Girl One believes it is important to air the allegations, no matter painful or how long ago an incident happened.

"How can change be effective if we don't know what we were and what we need to change from?" she said.

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