Another sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Spokane diocese

Associated Press/July 16, 2004

Spokane, Wash. -- A former altar boy has sued the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, alleging he was sexually assaulted and molested by a monsignor at his Walla Walla parish in the 1980s.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the "John Doe" plaintiff alleged the then-Spokane bishop knew the Rev. Arthur Mertens was a dangerous child molester, yet failed to report his activities to authorities.

Mertens served as pastor of St. Patrick parish in Walla Walla before he was removed from ministry in 1989.

The lawsuit said the boy was 9 and an altar boy when Mertens began "grooming" him in 1983. Over the next four years, the priest raped and molested the boy numerous times, the lawsuit contended.

During that period, another priest complained to the bishop when Mertens had the boy stay overnight at the rectory and Mertens repeatedly asked the bishop for permission to adopt the boy, the lawsuit claimed.

Mertens repeatedly told other priests that he was sexually abusing the boy and was unable to control his urges, yet none encouraged him to turn himself in to authorities or seek treatment, the lawsuit alleged.

There was no answer to a call for comment to Mertens' Spokane residence.

A statement released by the Spokane diocese said it had been expecting the lawsuit for some time.

"Bishop William Skylstad expresses his profound sorrow and apologizes to the victim on behalf of the Diocese of Spokane," the statement said.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court by attorneys Timothy Kosnoff and Michael Pfau, who specialize in clergy sexual abuse cases.

The lawsuit is the most recent against the Spokane diocese. The diocese recently said it faced 15 lawsuits involving 48 plaintiffs. There were also 17 other claims of abuse in which lawsuits had not been filed.

Mertens was among six priests the diocese identified in October 2002 as having been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with children. Bishop William Skylstad said then he believed the reports to be true.

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