Diocese hit with lawsuit

Yakima Herald-Republic/June 29, 2006
By Jane Gargas

A woman alleging she was physically and sexually abused by a priest in Toppenish in the early 1960s filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Yakima County Superior Court.

The woman, identified by the initials M.H., is suing the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, saying it failed to protect her from abuse.

The plaintiff, who lives in Yakima County, says in the lawsuit she was abused by Father Michael Simpson when she was a 12-year-old living in Zillah.

Three other women have previously filed lawsuits alleging abuse by Simpson, now deceased, who served as a parish priest at St. Aloysius Church in Toppenish. All four women lived in the Lower Valley during the 1950s and '60s.

In the newest lawsuit, M.H., who was born in 1950, described being enticed to go into the rectory with her sister after Mass one Sunday by Simpson, who promised them candy.

M.H. alleges that Simpson shoved her sister into a closet, then told M.H. she was going to be disciplined for being out of church. When he allegedly forced her to lie over a bed and ordered her to remove her clothes, M.H. says she refused. According to her account, Simpson then tried to tear off her blouse and attempted to kiss her. The lawsuit mentions no other incidents involving M.H. and the priest.

Tacoma attorney Tim Kosnoff, who filed M.H.'s suit, said in a telephone interview that one factor distinguishing this lawsuit from the others is the girl's mother allegedly reported the incident to the head pastor at St. Aloysius.

"That put the diocese on notice about Father Simpson's problems, yet he remained in the diocese for another 10 to 12 years," Kosnoff said.

Kosnoff alleges in the lawsuit the diocese took no action to prevent abuse by Simpson and, once notified of it, did not seek out victims of abuse to mitigate the damages.

The Seattle firm of Stafford Frey Cooper represents the diocese in abuse claims. Contacted Wednesday, attorney Michael Bolasina said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit and therefore couldn't comment.

"I'm pretty sure I'm the first person associated with the diocese who's heard about this," Bolasina said.

The suit seeks monetary damages for medical treatments past and future, lost earnings and for physical, mental and emotional injuries.

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