WA--Spokane bishop quietly suspends accused priest

For immediate release: Thursday, Oct. 30

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])

Weeks ago, Spokane’s top Catholic official quietly suspended a credibly accused predator priest. But Bishop Blasé Cupich notified only his flock, not the public. He refused to disclose when the allegations surfaced. He urged other victims to call church officials, not secular authorities. And he made no mention of possible criminal prosecution or of the need for Catholics and citizens to share what they know about the priest with law enforcement. This is disturbing and reckless.


Though Fr. Daniel Wetzler’s suspension took effect on Oct. 1, no word of it was circulated, apparently, until Oct. 16 when a notice was printed on page eight of the Spokane diocesan newspaper, the Inland Register. Nothing was said about helping police and prosecutors build a criminal case against Fr. Wetzler.

As best we can tell, Cupich did not hold a news conference or issue a news release about the accusations. He didn’t say when the victim reported the abuse, which is an important fact. (Did it take months or years for Cupich to act?)

Only yesterday did the public learn about the credible child sex accusations through a small article in the Spokesman-Review, a secular daily newspaper.


This is wrong. Child sex accusations should be made publicly as broadly and quickly as possible. Otherwise, like child molesters are given more chances to intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, discredit whistleblowers, destroy evidence, fabricate alibis and even flee the country.

There are 6.9 million people in Washington. Cupich’s diocese is the nation’s 134th in size, claiming to have 722,000 members. So Cupich deliberately chose to notify, on page eight of his newspaper, a very small percentage of those who should have been told of the credible allegations against Fr. Wetzler.

Most abuse victims leave the church. So do many who saw or suspected predator priest’s crimes. Most police and prosecutors don’t read their local diocesan paper. Cupich is a smart man. He knows all this. He understands that a small acknowledgement in his diocesan paper will likely go unnoticed by those who need most to see it. So he’s acting like Catholic bishops have acted for decades in clergy sex cases: by doing the absolute bare minimum.

And of course, many child molesting clerics sexually violate kids they know outside of their parishes – kids who live in the neighborhood, deliver the daily newspaper, mow the parish lawn or whatever. That’s another reason that all parents, not just Catholic parents who subscribe to their diocesan newspaper, deserve and need to know when a priest is so dangerous he’s being ousted. 

Let us say now what Cupich should have said – widely and clearly – weeks or even months ago: If you saw, suspected or suffered clergy sex crimes by Fr. Wetzler, you have a moral and civic duty to call the independent, experienced professionals in law enforcement so that kids might be protected, Fr. Wetzler might be prosecuted and the church itself be more healthy and safe.  You may think that by keeping quiet, you’re helping your parish, diocese or faith. But you are doing just the reverse. So please, find the courage to break your silence, safeguard innocent kids, and prevent future crimes.

This is the message that Cupich should be spreading far and wide and immediately.

What we said about Cupich on Sept. 20 bears repeating now:

At least 39 Spokane priests have been publicly accused of child sexual abuse. That's a very high number for a relatively small diocese. Cupich should explain, in detail, what he has done that goes “above and beyond” the bare minimum of paying settlements and suspending predators.

– He and his top aides in Spokane acknowledge that 27 of these 39 clerics have molested children. He should explain that discrepancy.

– He should tell parishioners and the public precisely what he has done to warn parents about and protect kids from Patrick G. O'Connell, the most prolific and notorious child molesting cleric in the Northwest.


            Here's what we know about Cupich's past:

1) Earlier this year, a priest, Fr. Brad Reynolds, was still on the job at a Catholic college in Cupich's Spokane diocese even though

–-eight years earlier, the priest was sued for molesting two boys in Alaska,

– was removed from his duties by his Jesuit supervisors, and

-- was allegedly put under 24 hour surveillance at a Jesuit institution.

We urged Cupich to warn the public and their parishioners about Fr. Reynolds and insist that Jesuits suspend him and aggressively reach out to others he may have hurt.”


As best we can tell, Cupich ignored our request.

2)  In 2010, we urged Cupich to reach out to others who may have been hurt by a priest, Fr. William Vogel, who exploited and impregnated a Catholic parishioner. As best we can tell, Cupich ignored our request.


3) In 2007, we backed Cupich in the election for head of the US bishops' sex abuse committee chairmanship. At that time, we admitted that we knew little about Cupich but endorse his candidacy simply because his competitors have poorer track records on abuse cases. (Because of the Spokane bankruptcy, much of his abuse track record was sealed or hidden.)


Since then, what we've seen and learned about Cupich has been disappointing.

4) Cupich won that election. But he did little or nothing to strengthen a very weak and rarely enforced abuse “charter” that had been hastily adopted five years earlier (despite repeated claims by Catholic officials that they were “learning” more about abuse and were “getting better” at dealing with it)

And under his tenure as chair of the USCCB's child protection committee, two of the most disturbing and clearly egregious scandals surfaced

--Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn refused to call law enforcement. He was later criminally convicted of “failure to report” suspected abuse (becoming only the second bishop in the world to have his ignominious distinction). Cupich basically did nothing.

--Philadelphia prosecutors disclosed that 37 accused predator priests were still on the job in Philadelphia.

In each case, a firestorm of protest ensued. In each case, evidence showed that the bishops' abuse “charter” was ineffectual. Yet Cupich said and did virtually nothing. Despite his post as the bishops' “point man” on abuse, Cupich was not even willing to publicly criticize his colleagues after their recklessness, callousness and deceit were exposed.

5) Time and time again, Cupich claims that the bishops' abuse “charter” works, despite plentiful and mounting evidence (besides the KC and Philly scandals) that it is not.


6) While his Spokane predecessor sent the diocese into Chapter 11, Cupich could have reversed that irresponsible, self-serving course.    

7) Here's what we wrote about Cupich when he became head of the Spokane diocese:




8) Here's a very disturbing interview he gave about the abuse and cover up crisis: http://www.inlander.com/spokane/taking-stock/Content?oid=2132851

THE BOTTOM LINE – Chicago Catholics and citizens naturally want to give Cupich the benefit of the doubt regarding the abuse crisis. Cupich’s latest quiet suspension of a credibly accused predator priest makes this harder to do.

 (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected])   

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant