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Tuesday, August 27, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Psychologist faces new allegations he molested boys

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Bellevue psychologist with a history of molesting teenagers is under investigation by a state board, amid new allegations that he sexually abused minors while serving as a Roman Catholic priest in the mid-1970s and early 1980s.

The Washington Board of Psychological Examiners, which licenses and regulates psychologists, said yesterday it will look into at least six new complaints filed with the Spokane Diocese in the past four months against Patrick G. O'Donnell, who served as both priest and psychologist until he was forced out of the active ministry in 1985.

O'Donnell, who currently treats patients 12 and older for the Cascade Behavioral Medicine Clinic in Bellevue, has not returned repeated phone calls to his home and office.

Few details were available about the current complaints. All involve abuse alleged to have occurred 15 or more years ago, said the Most Rev. William Skylstad, bishop of Spokane.

O'Donnell had been treated for sexual deviancy in Seattle before receiving his psychology license in 1980. And in 1984, the psychology licensing board sanctioned him after determining he had molested two 13-year-old boys during an overnight boating trip on Lake Coeur d'Alene in 1980.

His license to treat patients, however, was not removed.

"I cannot speak for the board in 1984, but we're in a very different place now," said Robert Nicoloff, executive director of the state's Health Professions Division. "All the health professions have new guidelines in how to deal with these matters, so if this case were at this point, the board could have a different outcome. Ultimately it comes down to protecting the public."

It appears that all the new and past allegations revolve around O'Donnell's role as a priest, not as a psychologist. Under the Uniform Disciplinary Act, health professionals can be disciplined for immoral acts even outside their professional duties.

Janice Boden, the psychology board's program director, said licensing guidelines have become far stricter since the early 1980s. O'Donnell was not required to disclose his previous treatment for sexual deviancy when applying for his license in 1980, Boden said.

The newest allegation was filed with the Spokane Diocese yesterday by a Whitman County couple who allege their oldest son was molested by O'Donnell in the late 1970s. The son later committed suicide.

His mother, an employee at Washington State University, sobbed on the telephone when told O'Donnell was still practicing psychology. She and her husband said their son was 12 when O'Donnell molested him on a boating trip in about 1978. He referred to the alleged abuse in his 1990 suicide note, said the mother, who asked that the family not be identified.

"His words were, 'What happened to me destroyed me,' " she said. "He said he had to take his own life before he took someone else's."

The couple said they learned of the abuse in 1980 when their son refused to go on another outing with O'Donnell but said they didn't report the alleged abuse.

"None of this was out in the open then, so I don't think we knew what to do," said the father. "Who would have believed you?"

O'Donnell was ordained in Spokane in 1971 after serving in the Army Medical Service Corps during the Vietnam War. He quickly became known for working with kids, taking them on boating trips and ski outings and serving as the church's Boy Scout liaison.

Monsignor John Steiner, the diocese's former vicar general, called him a "Pied Piper with kids."

"He was a very effective kind of person who wanted to do the kinds of things with kids everyone thinks is wonderful, but he probably had a double agenda," Steiner said.

After an allegation of misconduct arose in 1976 at Spokane's Assumption parish, then-Bishop Lawrence Welsh sent O'Donnell to Seattle for 2-½ years of sexual-deviancy treatment. While in Seattle, he lived and celebrated Mass at St. Paul's parish in Rainier Beach and earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Washington.

He also had frequent unsupervised contact with teen boys, said Jim Biteman, a Renton resident who alleges that O'Donnell molested him while living at St. Paul's.

Biteman, 39, said O'Donnell held frank conversations with boys about sexuality and often took boys on boat trips on Lake Washington. He would suggest they skinny dip from the cabin cruiser while he watched, Biteman said. Once, Biteman said, the priest fondled him while visiting his home for dinner. "It's been on my mind forever," Biteman said.

His attorney, Timothy Kosnoff of Bellevue, said he plans to file complaints with both the Seattle Archdiocese and the Spokane Diocese.

Steiner, the former vicar general of the Spokane Diocese, said St. Paul's and the Seattle Archdiocese were fully informed of O'Donnell's history and why he had been sent to Seattle. Seattle Archdiocese spokesman Bill Gallant could not immediately confirm that yesterday.

Following O'Donnell's treatment, Welsh assigned him to the Whitman County town of Rosalia in the late 1970s, believing he had been cured, according to the diocese.

"This was 25 years ago. The understanding of what was going on was very different from now," said Steiner.

O'Donnell's license was placed under several restrictions in 1984 after the psychology board substantiated a complaint that he had molested two 13-year-old boys on a boating trip. Among the sanctions, he was required to practice under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and refrain from unsupervised contact with minor males in his practice.

The restrictions were lifted two years later, and he was allowed to resume his practice unsupervised, according to board records. But Welsh, who has since died, removed O'Donnell from the ministry after parishioners learned of the investigation and became concerned, according to diocese officials at the time.

If the allegations are substantiated, the psychology board has several options, including suspending or revoking O'Donnell's license and fining him up to $5,000 per violation.

Ray Rivera: 206-464-2926 or rayrivera@seattletimes.com.

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