The Catholic Diocese of Yakima agreed last month to pay $205,000 to a woman who sued over sexual abuse she said took place at the hands of a Jesuit priest in the 1970s.
The woman, identified as M.P. in the suit filed in April 2010 in Yakima County Superior Court, settled last year with the Jesuits for $288,000. Both suits stem from abuse she said occurred in 1977 when she was 8 years old at St. Joseph’s Parish, which was run by the Jesuits until last summer. The priest in question, Francis Duffy, had been accused of molesting girls in Oregon before he was transferred to Yakima, where he served until 1989. He died in 1992.
The woman’s lawyer, Bryan Smith of Tamaki Law Offices in Yakima, hailed the settlement as an overdue acknowledgment of responsibility. Previously, he said, the diocese had placed all of the blame for Duffy’s abuse on the Jesuits.
“The Yakima Diocese had not acknowledged any type of responsibility for Father Duffy despite the fact he preached in this town under their supervision for 20 years,” Smith said.
The Rev. Robert Siler, diocese chief of staff, characterized the settlement differently. The diocese needs “to prudently protect its legal rights” and taking the matter to court could have proved costly. But the diocese was unaware Duffy had abused anyone when he came to Yakima, Siler said.
“We simply did not know,” he said.
The settlement, he noted, does not mean the diocese has accepted legal responsibility.
“Consistently, the Jesuits have always accepted responsibility for assigning and supervising the priests they’ve had come to Yakima,” Siler said.
The lawsuit acknowledged that the diocese may not have known, but still asserted that it bore responsibility.
“We never got a jury determination on that,” Smith said. “It’s our position that they knew or should have known. … There is a long history of the diocese knowing about abuse committed within its jurisdiction and borders and doing nothing about it.”
Over the past decade, the diocese has confirmed the names of more than a dozen clergymen who have served in the diocese and who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse. And, though the diocese did not accept legal liability in this settlement, Bishop Joseph Tyson wrote a letter of apology to the woman and has offered to meet with her for discussion and counsel, Siler said.
“We’re very sorry for any abuse the victim has suffered, particularly any abuse at the hand of Father Duffy,” he said.
But that language, “any abuse,” falls short of the true mea culpa Smith said he would like to see from the diocese. Still, despite the diocese not taking legal responsibility, his client is relieved with the outcome, he said.
“Any time the church pays money to settle a case, it’s an acknowledgment of wrongdoing,” Smith said. “That’s how I view it.”