A law firm representing sexual abuse survivors filed six more lawsuits against the Seattle Archdiocese on Tuesday, alleging that Archdiocese knew or should have known about the crimes, yet did nothing.
Five out of the six cases involve abusive priests outed on the list of 77 names that the Archdiocese released in January. And all six plaintiffs called the law firm after the list was made public, according to Seattle attorneys Michael T. Pfau and Jason P. Amala, who’ve filed hundreds of such cases over the years. (One case settled with the Seattle Archdiocese in late March for $9.15 million.)
The six victims whose cases were filed this week “all saw the names [of their alleged perpetrators] on the list and called with questions, many of them thinking that they were the only one,” says Pfau. That fact alone is worth noting, he says. The Archdiocese had, in its files, credible accusations of sexual abuse — enough to publish each priest’s name on a list — but none of the survivors who called Pfau’s law firm had spoken out previously, or had any idea that their perpetrators may have abused other children. “To see that they weren’t the people who had called the Archdiocese to complain,” says Pfau, makes it “obvious that there are other victims.”
Still, the breadth of the six alleged crimes is astonishing, and points, once again, to the culture of abuse and secrecy that many claim dominates the Catholic Church — both in Seattle and across the world. “It’s not six abuse survivors saying one notorious pedophile abused them during a limited time,” Pfau says. “It’s six different people accusing six different pedophiles spanning 30 years at parishes all over the [Seattle] Archdiocese.” As a result, thanks to today’s news and all of the news that came before it, “You can’t really say it’s just a few bad apples.”
He adds that these six lawsuits represent just a fraction of the calls his firm receives. Since the release of the list in January, he’s gotten some 25 to 30 calls from survivors, “either upset about the list, or [because] the list triggered memories or feelings,” and often wanting more information about their abuser; not all victims want to file a lawsuit. Some victims are looking for compensation, some are looking for an apology, and some are simply looking for answers, Pfau says — all the more reason for the Archdiocese to release the full, secret files it keeps on these alleged crimes.
One of the cases filed Tuesday, for instance, accuses Father James Gandrau, a former priest at St. Mark School and Parish in Shoreline, of sexually abusing the plaintiff while he was an altar boy in 1966 and 1967, usually in a side room where the altar boys got dressed. According to the complaint, Reverend Father Theodore Sullivan, a pastor at St. Mark Parish at the time, caught Father Gandrau in the act of abusing the plaintiff, but never reported the abuse to authorities, never reported Gandrau for his crimes, and never sought medical or psychological care for the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleges that the Archdiocese did nothing to protect him, and as a result, Gandrau continued to abuse him.
Gandrau remained a priest with the Seattle Archdiocese until 2002.
“We hope victims of all child molesting clerics … will report their pain and their predators, not to church officials but to law enforcement, no matter how long ago,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a statement about these new cases filed in Seattle. “We also hope that witnesses and whistle blowers will do the same with their knowledge or suspicions, no matter how old or seemingly insignificant. These steps are hard. But they must be taken if girls and boys are to be protected and molesters and enablers are to be stopped.”
Today’s lawsuits are not the only ones his firm will file, adds Pfau. More lawsuits should appear in the coming months. In the meantime, the firm also intends to speak with officials at the Archdiocese to “resolve the claims of clients who would rather not file a lawsuit, but still want closure,” as well as help secure counseling for some victims.
Above all, Pfau says, “We’re continuing to give information to abuse survivors who want information… and perhaps want information from someone other than the Archdiocese.”
Sara Bernard writes about environment and education, among other things, for Seattle Weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com or 206-467-4370. Follow her on Twitter at @saralacy. Get more from your favorite writers by subscribing to our weekly newsletters.