Group challenges controversial priest

Group challenges controversial priest

Two groups concerned with the clergy sex abuse and cover up scandal are challenging a priest who was the alleged lover of a serial pedophile to “an open public discussion” at a Catholic church Monday night. They are writing two Washington bishops about the cleric.

According to a 2004 sworn deposition, Fr. Lawrence Reilly was the spiritual director and sexual partner of Washington’s most notorious and prolific predator priest, Fr. Pat O’Donnell. Next week, Reilly is set to lead a five day retreat in Yakima, Washington, along with retired Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla.

The Central Washington chapter of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) and the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those abused by Priests want Reilly to step aside. They say there are “far too many close and disturbing ties” between Reilly and O’Donnell.

“O’Donnell’s victims are being hurt and betrayed even more by Yakima church officials,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s outreach director. “This is why the church’s abuse crisis never ends – because clerics who ignored, minimized and concealed child sex suspicions and crimes keep getting rewarded like this, instead of getting punished.”

The groups want 20 or 30 minutes before the retreat starts to talk about this controversy with Reilly and church-goers.

“If Fr. Reilly did nothing wrong and knew nothing about O’Donnell’s crimes, let him say so and take questions about these serious allegations,” said Robert Fontana of Yakima who heads Central Washington Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). “Even after his alleged sexual partner’s crimes were exposed, it appears that Reilly did nothing to help police or the victims who were and are so hurt by his reported lover’s crimes.”

Today, SNAP and VOTF are writing the current heads of the three Washington Catholic dioceses – Yakima (where Reilly works now), Spokane (where he taught at the seminary and met O'Donnell) and Seattle (where he worked with a Catholic health care system).

“We want these bishops to investigate Reilly’s past and ‘come clean’ about his close ties to a child molester and his possible role in that molester’s crimes,” said Fontana. “And we want them to stop Reilly from leading the event next week until this can all be cleared up.”

In that 2004 deposition, O’Donnell said that he and Reilly bought and shared a cabin located on Lake Coeur d'Alene. In civil lawsuits dozens of boys later said O’Donnell sexually violated them at the cabin. 

In the court document, O'Donnell also admits that Reilly was aware of O'Donnell's sexual penchant for children. The deposition is on line at http://votfcentralwashington.com/Archive_of_articles_.html

According to BishopAccountability.org, O’Donnell was removed as a pastor in 1985 and abused at least 65 boys in the 1970s and 1980s. O'Donnell now lives in La Connor, Washington.

The retreat is scheduled for March 19-23 at mother church of the diocese, St. Paul Cathedral at 15 S. 12th Ave. in Yakima. It is being advertised on the Cathedral website and through church bulletins of nearby Catholic parishes. 

St. Paul pastor Msgr. Jack Ecker, in a letter to parishioners inviting them to the retreat, praises both Reilly and retired Yakima Bishop Carlos Sevilla, who’s also speaking at the event. Reilly is described as “a leading moral theologian” and Sevilla is described as a "wonderful spiritual director."

“Imagine how those accolades feel to hurting people who were sexually assaulted by O’Donnell or by other predator priests who were protected by Sevilla,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP’s director. “It’s irresponsible and hurtful to give positions of power and honor to Sevilla who ignored and concealed child sex crimes, and Reilly, who his alleged sexual partner implied, under oath, did too?”

“The deposition suggests that Reilly lived a double-life publicly claiming to be celibate while being sexually involved with a notorious pedophile and doing nothing to prevent his sexual partner from sexually abusing boys,” said Fontana. “Even after his alleged sexual partner’s crimes were exposed, it appears that Reilly did nothing to help police or the victims who were and are so hurt by his reported lover’s crimes.”

Fontana and SNAP note that in the seven years since the deposition was taken, neither Reilly nor any other church official has apparently challenged O’Donnell’s sworn statements.

“At a bare minimum," says Clohessy. "Seattle’s archbishop should lean on his colleague in Yakima to suspend Reilly immediately and bring in a trained outsider who can investigate these allegations against him. That’s the prudent course of action.  There are too many troubling signs and questions. Parishioners and the public need straight answers.”

Reilly currently pastors two parishes in the Yakima Diocese: Immaculate Conception in Roslyn and St. John the Baptist in Cle Elum.  He is also the Vicar for Clergy for the diocese.  In October 2010, Fontana wrote Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope's ambassador to the US about Reilly's link to O'Donnell and urged Sambi to take the case to Rome for investigation.  Fontana wrote,

"Fr. Reilly continues to be a key advisor to the bishop, especially as a Vicar for Clergy, where he addresses critical issues related to priests and deacons, including issues of sexual abuse and misconduct. He has shown in the past that he will protect a clergy pedophile to hide his secret and there is no reason to believe that he will not continue to do so in the future. What is most alarming about this entire affair is that Bishop Sevilla named Fr. Reilly the Vicar of Clergy with full knowledge of Fr. Reilly’s past sexual relationship with serial child molester Fr. Pat O’Donnell."

Copies of SNAP’s letters, sent today by fax and email, are available by request.

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  • published this page in Media Statements 2012-03-16 11:58:54 -0500