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Catholic Culture Overview

"just little old me ..."

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 08, 2006

The NCR [tip to Amy] has a lengthy article on the situation in the Spokane Diocese precipitated by clergy abuse. It focuses on one abuser in particular, Fr. Patrick O'Donnell, and on the role played by Spokane's current bishop, USCCB president William Skylstad. As often, the responsible churchmen fortuitously develop memory lapses at those moments when accurate testimony would imperil their careers or their liberty:

But just two weeks after O'Donnell's ordination in June of 1971, Topel received a complaint that O'Donnell had molested a young student at the Mater Cleri Seminary outside Spokane. Still, the diocese named O'Donnell director of the Catholic youth ministry and allowed him to serve as chaplain to the Boy Scouts. He arrived at Assumption Parish in 1974 after abuse complaints arose at another parish. Skylstad, then pastor of Assumption, has denied knowing of those allegations. (Although parishioners have long marveled at Skylstad's ability to recall names and faces, the bishop used variations of the phrase "I can't remember" or "I cannot recall" over 500 times during his three days of court deposition.)

In his deposition, Skylstad said he "remonstrated" O'Donnell when notified by a parishioner that the priest was having the boys stand on the auditorium stage and wash their naked genitals after gym class. The two men shared cramped living quarters in the parish rectory. O'Donnell slept in the basement.

"It's just little old me," numerous victims remember Skylstad saying when he'd return home upstairs.

The article is interesting in its attempt to report the interests pursued by heterogeneous groups of affected persons: victims, parishioners, priests, victim's lawyers -- although Skylstad himself refused to be interviewed, and we don't get even off-the-record remarks from chancery insiders. Also, since the article is principally concerned with the competing interests at stake in the legal battle for compensation, we don't get any insight into where the players are located on the ideological or theological map. On one hand, this means we're spared the usual commercial for married clergy and woman priests; on the other, there's no attempt to ask how this particularly disastrous power-constellation of bishops, seminary rectors, and vocation recruiters got control of the apparatus in the first place and remains in control today.

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