Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Neighbors find child molester living down block in La Conner

Former Spokane priest Patrick G. O'Donnell, who has admitted to molesting dozens of teenage boys over three decades, has been quietly living in this Western Washington town for the past four years, to the surprise of neighbors.

O'Donnell was named in 66 of the 176 claims alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Spokane Catholic Diocese, more than any other single priest, and the diocese considers him "credibly accused."

That history has his neighbors upset.

"It's unbelievable this can happen," said Jennifer Smith, who lives down the street from O'Donnell.

"This is a great place to raise a family, but we're frustrated that he has been here for four years and no one knew about it," resident Julie Burgmeier said. "We have to tell people about him and ensure that our children are aware of who and what he is."

O'Donnell, 65, has said in recent court depositions that he hasn't molested any children for two decades. He is not listed on any sex-offender registries because he has never been arrested. Instead, Catholic leaders in Spokane decades ago tried to treat his pedophilia without disclosing his actions.

It was a failed attempt that contributed to the bankruptcy filing by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane. Last year, the diocese agreed to pay $48 million to those claiming sexual abuse by priests.

O'Donnell, who in recent decades had been living and working in Bellevue, has not been accused of sexual misconduct since 1985.

But residents of his neighborhood told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane that they worry that pedophiles can't be cured.

"We're going to make sure everybody here and in the surrounding communities is aware that (O'Donnell) is here," said Miguel Rivas, a teacher with two young boys.

Keith Hunter, a fifth-grade teacher, wants changes to state laws that would require admitted pedophiles without convictions to register as sex offenders.

"I just look at the fact that here's a man who has never been brought to justice and remains free to roam," Hunter said. "He has admitted to being a serial pedophile, and yet there's nothing in place to track him."

"I'd like to tell him to leave here," said Smith, the neighbor, "but it's not that easy. You can't just move your trash to another community."

O'Donnell's phone number is unlisted, and he has declined for years to talk with reporters.

He paid $225,000 for his home in April 2003, according to Skagit County property records.

He removed himself from the priesthood in 1986.

After that, O'Donnell practiced psychology in the Bellevue area, treating patients age 12 and older. He lived in a home with an indoor swimming pool in the upscale Yarrow Point community.

O'Donnell cannot be charged for the past abuses. The statute of limitations has expired.
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