Yakima Valley man files suit against diocese

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YAKIMA, Wash. —
A Yakima Valley man has filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima alleging he was sexually abused decades ago by an associate pastor.

The lawsuit filed Oct. 3 in Yakima County Superior Court marks the fifth pending case involving clergy abuse against the Yakima diocese, which serves more than 80,000 Catholics across a sprawling seven-county area in central Washington.

The lawsuit claims that the Rev. Ernest Dale Calhoun sexually abused the victim, identified only as S.K., when he was a 15-year-old altar boy at St. Paul’s Cathedral Parish in the early 1970s. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the diocese, but does not name Calhoun as a defendant. He is no longer an active priest and is believed to be living in Texas.

The man’s lawyer, Vito de la Cruz, said the lawsuit specifically named the church because it permitted Calhoun unrestricted access to vulnerable youths.

“They are the ones who hired him. They are the ones who transferred him in and out and ultimately are responsible for what happened to the victim,” he said.

A telephone number for Calhoun could not be located, and he could not be reached for comment.

Calhoun was ordained a priest in Beaumont, Texas, in 1968. The lawsuit alleges that he sexually abused a teenage boy there before transferring to the Yakima diocese. Calhoun also was a minister in Kennewick, Benton City and Ephrata before going to work in Seattle.

The Yakima man, now in his mid-50s, is undergoing treatment for colon cancer and does not want to risk dying “without telling the story of what happened to him,” according to de la Cruz.

Calhoun was the subject of at least one other clergy abuse lawsuit, which the diocese settled for undisclosed terms in 1994, according to the Rev. Robert Siler, a spokesman for the diocese. Siler said the name of the man who filed the latest lawsuit came up in the course of that case, but only as a witness.

Siler said he was surprised Calhoun was not a defendant in the case.

“We’re certainly sorry for any abuse the victim has suffered at the hands of Father Calhoun,” he said. “Obviously, if the diocese is at fault then it should be held accountable, but I would think the victims and the attorneys would want to hold the priest accountable as well.”

Founded in 1951, the Yakima diocese stretches from the Cascade mountains east to rolling fruit orchards, wine grape vineyards and fields of hops, potatoes and wheat. Parishioners include long-standing farm families and recent immigrants who’ve moved to the area for farm work.

The diocese already has paid out more than $1 million to resolve claims and spent at least $1.5 million in legal fees in response to abuse claims. Most costs have been paid by insurance.