Friday, March 25, 2011

Abuse victim settles with Yakima diocese
by Jane Gargas
Yakima Herald-Republic
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A Seattle woman who said she was sexually molested by a Yakima priest when she was a teenager has settled a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Yakima for $287,500.

Known in the lawsuit as M.C., the 57-year-old Yakima native said that Christopher Breen, who served as a priest and supervising pastor at St. Paul Cathedral in the 1960s and early 1970s, repeatedly molested her beginning when she was a sophomore in high school.

"I feel a deep sense of betrayal," M.C. said in a phone interview Wednesday from Seattle.

"I was a Catholic girl who was having family problems and, unbelievably, the person you'd least expect turned out to be a predator," she said.

M.C. and Breen had a private relationship, which included unsupervised trips to Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Rainier, she said. The relationship of four years was discontinued when Breen told M.C., then 19, that he had met someone else.

The case was filed in King County, where both M.C. and Breen live, in September 2008.

A telephone call to Breen's home in Kenmore on Wednesday was not returned. He left the priesthood more than 30 years ago, then worked as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of King County, which is now called Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.

Breen, now in his 70s, retired from Big Brothers Big Sisters several years before the lawsuit surfaced. He is now married to a woman he met in Yakima.

The Rev. Robert Siler, chief of staff for the Yakima diocese, said that while the diocese did not admit liability, there was a desire to settle the case to let both M.C. and the diocese move forward.

"We hope that she can now move on with her life and find healing and peace," Siler said.

The settlement money was covered by insurance, he said.

In a prior, separate settlement, Breen himself paid M.C. a confidential, undisclosed amount.

M.C. alleged she went to Breen, her pastor at St. Paul's, in 1968 to seek counseling because she was upset that her parents were divorcing. She says the relationship evolved from his giving her guidance to sexual molestation.

A graduate of Yakima's Carroll High School (now closed) and Western Washington University, M.C. believes Breen took advantage of her at a vulnerable time.

"If you can't trust the pastor of a Catholic church, who could you trust?"

She continued, "He told me it was our special secret. I thought he knew the deeper rules of God more than I did."

M.C. said that it wasn't until she was much older that she realized Breen had taken advantage of her. "I now realize I was manipulated and totally played.

"I put my faith and trust in (Breen). What he did was very damaging."

Although the settlement is complete, M.C. said that she never received an apology from the diocese.

"That's heartbreaking to me," she said. "I was hoping they would reach out with kindness from one human being to another."

Siler said he wasn't aware that M.C. had asked for an apology.

"Whenever anyone comes forward and says they've been hurt by the church, we cooperate with the process," he said.

He added, "We're very sorry for any abuse the victim suffered."

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