His Past Life

An old molestation allegation is renewed against the former head of Seattle Children's Home.

David Cousineau was a prominent community leader and children's advocate for more than a decade. But the past and future of the ex-director of Seattle Children's Home are in question over an allegation that, while a priest in Southern California more than a decade ago, he repeatedly molested an altar boy at his Los Angeles church. Cousineau is named in a list of alleged pedophile priests released last month by Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, to whom Cousineau once was a friend and confidant. The church report names 211 priests accused of molesting 519 boys and 137 girls dating back to 1930. Despite those breathtaking numbers, critics say the list does not fully disclose the true extent of the pedophile history of the L.A. Archdiocese, America's largest. The report was called a "media stunt" by Steven Sanchez, director of the Los Angeles chapter of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, who urged Mahony to throw open the complete record to police agencies.

It was nonetheless devastating to Cousineau, who denies the allegation and says it has been disproved. Cousineau had been sued by the former altar boy while Cousineau was head of Seattle Children's Home (SCH). But the home says it never learned of the case, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1992, the year Cousineau left the church and was hired in Seattle. The financially troubled home, on Queen Anne Hill, says it annually helps hundreds of at-risk youths referred through courts or state and local agencies, some of whom are held in a locked ward for treatment. Cousineau departed SCH in early 2003, leaving operations in such a shaky financial state that the 120-year-old charity's future is threatened (see "A Broke Home," Sept. 24, 2003). Newly obtained figures show the home has continued to lose money after Cousineau's departure.

While head of SCH, Cousineau twisted the arms of some of Seattle's biggest names—billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the Nordstroms, the McCaws, and Boeing—for donations to his kids facility. He recruited top names for his executive board—fetal-alcohol-syndrome expert Sterling Clarren and state Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge among them. He created new mental-health approaches to treating at-risk youths, was a member of the county's mental-health advisory board, and donated time to benefits and civic events and as a judge for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Jefferson Awards. Cousineau had come to Seattle after leaving a leadership role in the Catholic Church, as a priest who rose to power as head of the L.A. Archdiocese's Catholic Charities, the largest nongovernmental agency providing services to the poor in Southern California. After a reported falling out with Mahony, he resigned from the priesthood in 1992, married, and came to Seattle as SCH's leader. Last May, he moved on to become president and CEO of Holt International Children's Services, the global adoption agency headquartered in Eugene, Ore. He called his devotion to children a spiritual calling and vowed "to ensure that every child will have a loving home."

Cousineau had been on his new job at Holt only 10 months when his name showed up on the L.A. Archdiocese's February "Report to the People of God." He had been notified at least a month earlier that a lawsuit had been refiled against him by his accuser, Timothy McDonnell, 44, of Long Beach, Calif., who says then-Father Cousineau molested him from 1970 to 1973, starting when McDonnell was 11. McDonnell had sued the arch­diocese in the early 1990s over the alleged abuse at Our Lady of Peace church in the San Fernando Valley. Cousineau recently said that, once the facts came out, the original suit was dropped. But McDonnell says he was pressured to drop the suit and that the statute of limitations for bringing the claim also had expired. A new California law that went into effect in 2003, approved in the wake of the nationwide priest-abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church, suspended the statute of limitations in sexual-abuse cases for one year. McDonnell refiled his claim in December, one of more than 500 suits submitted under the new law. "This is a second chance at justice for me," McDonnell recently told California reporters. "The statute of limitations is what the Catholic Church has been hiding behind for many, many years."

Cousineau, ordained in 1972, was considered one of Cardinal Mahony's closest allies until a reported blowup in 1992. (Mahony was an appointed archbishop in 1985 and cardinal in 1991.) The Tidings, the archdiocesan newsletter, said Cousineau had "stepped down" from the top charity post, but the National Catholic Reporter in 1993 called that "a delightful under­statement given that Cousineau quit after an angry confrontation with Mahony." The two had been close and went to Los Angeles Dodgers games together, the Reporter said, but Cousineau's error was, in the words of one priest, "when he got pissed off at Roger, he put it in writing. Roger will never forgive that; there's a record of it." Mahony dislikes paper trails, said the priest.

Cousineau insists that accuser McDonnell's claim is untrue. When the accusation was first made by McDonnell a decade ago, "the facts were demonstrably false and I thought it was over . . . until this list was published," Cousineau told KVAL-TV in Eugene. He also told the Eugene Register-Guard, "My whole life is being judged through the filter of this false accusation." Cousineau could not be reached for comment last week. Susan Cox, a spokesperson for Holt International, says Cousineau is on voluntary administrative leave pending completion of a review commissioned by the organization's board of directors. Holt board Chair Larry Cahill says they are awaiting the outcome of an independent investigation being conducted by Portland attorney Steve Walters.

At Seattle Children's Home, officials say no one apparently knew its director had been accused of pedophile acts around the time he was hired. SCH Development Director Joy Ingram says the home is undertaking an inquiry, but "at this time we have not determined when the allegations were made and if anyone at SCH knew of them." Ingram says they did not receive any reports of misconduct or inappropriate behavior while Cousineau was employed by SCH.

When Cousineau departed last spring, he left SCH with a mystery: How was $2.3 million spent on a treatment program that appeared to exist only on paper? Documents indicated some of the money went toward staff salaries, consulting, furniture, fund raising, and overhead. But few results were produced. Though officials claimed SCH itself was solvent, internal documents showed it had lost $1.1 million the previous year and many programs were cut. Spokesperson Ingram last week said SCH "is doing well, we are on track and positively exceeding our budget projections for this fiscal year." However, the home recently jettisoned another of its programs, the StreetLinks service to assist homeless youths, and a new charity disclosure filing with the state shows SCH lost $715,000 in fiscal 2003. Neither Justice Bridge nor board President Don Stephens would comment.

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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