Priest again accused of sexual abuse

Seattle Archdiocese dismissed earlier allegation from 2004

Seattle Post-Intelligencer/July 7, 2008

The Catholic Church is investigating a Monroe priest following a recent allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in 1969, the Seattle Archdiocese reported Monday.

The Rev. Michael C. O'Brien, pastor of St. Mary of the Valley Parish since July 1999, agreed to take a leave of administrative absence at the request of Archbishop Alex Brunett.

He allegedly abused a boy at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Vancouver, Wash., 39 years ago.

OBrien, who will be 69 next week, was on leave from St. Mary in 2004 following a separate allegation of child sexual abuse that purportedly occurred in 1991. He returned to the parish after the archdiocese's review board dismissed the allegation for lack of credible evidence. The board is a panel of clergy members and criminal justice and mental-health experts.

That board will review investigative findings of the current allegation against OBrien and is expected to deliver a recommendation to Brunett.

"Based upon the findings, I will either reinstate Father OBrien as pastor or continue his administrative leave pending action by the Vatican," Brunett said in a statement.

OBrien, a native of Enumclaw, was ordained to the priesthood in 1965. He has served at seven churches in Washington: St. Peter in Suquamish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Vancouver, St. Ann in Tacoma, St. James Cathedral in Seattle, St. Michael in Snohomish, St. John in Vancouver and St. Mary.

Brunett urged anyone with knowledge of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy, an employee or volunteer of the archdiocese to call the archdiocesan hot line at 800-446-7762.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, said the case "should be reported to the independent, experienced professionals in law enforcement, not to the usually biased and self-serving amateurs in chancery offices."

Problems are inherent "when secretive church officials try to 'handle' child molesting clergy 'in house,' " said Dorris, who lives in St. Louis.

Archdiocesan spokesman Greg Magnoni said the most recent allegation against OBrien has been referred to Clark County authorities.

The archdiocese contracts with former law enforcement professionals to conduct investigations of clergy, he said.

Beyond the investigation, Magnoni said, the archdiocese responds to every allegation with an offer for pastoral care and counseling.

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