Seattle Catholic Archdiocese Settles Child Sex Abuse Law Suit For $2.45m

Edward Courtney, who taught at O’Dea High School in Seattle when this photo was taken in 1977, is believed to have molested dozens of children in the 1970s and 1980s. (Obtained through legal discovery from the Seattle Archdiocese)
Edward Courtney, who taught at O’Dea High School in Seattle when this photo was taken in 1977, is believed to have molested dozens of children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Seattle Times

The alleged victim contends that officials for Seattle’s Catholic Archdiocese knew that Edward Courtney had sexually abused dozens of schoolchildren when they helped Courtney land a teaching job at Parkland Elementary School near Tacoma in late 1980.

“Seattle’s Catholic Archdiocese and a Tacoma-area school district have agreed to pay a combined $2.45 million to a Pierce County man to settle his lawsuit claiming that both institutions allowed a known pedophile teacher to keep working with children into the 1980s, enabling the teacher to prey on him and other children for years.

The Pierce County man — a 48-year-old law-enforcement officer identified only as D.W. in the suit — contended that officials for the archdiocese knew that Edward Courtney had sexually abused dozens of schoolchildren when they helped Courtney land a teaching job at Parkland Elementary near Tacoma in late 1980.

After his hiring at the since-closed public school, Courtney repeatedly molested D.W. while he was in the fifth and sixth grades, but Franklin Pierce School District officials allegedly failed to remove Courtney or notify police after receiving reports about Courtney’s alleged abuse of students, the suit claimed.

“What makes this case unique is that there is evidence that both the superintendent of Catholic schools and the superintendent from the public-school system had information that Courtney was a danger to children, which should have led to further investigation and the immediate termination of Courtney,” said Michael Pfau, a Seattle attorney who represented D.W. “By failing to take these steps, Courtney was able to continue to teach and additional children were abused.”

The case was settled on the eve of trial, which was set to start Monday. Under the settlement’s terms, the archdiocese agreed to pay $1.5 million and the Franklin Pierce School District agreed to pay $950,000, though neither organization admitted wrongdoing.

In a statement Tuesday, the archdiocese said Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain hopes the settlement will “bring closure and assist the survivor in his healing process.”

“To assure that archdiocesan schools and parishes maintain the highest standards of safety, the Archdiocese of Seattle implements a robust Safe Environment Program,” the statement said. “The program requires criminal background checks on all employees and volunteers who have unsupervised contact with children, and compliance with all applicable laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities.“

The Franklin Pierce School District also issued a statement Tuesday, noting the school system currently conducts thorough background checks when hiring employees and works with local law enforcement and the state superintendent’s office to support student safety.

“We are disappointed that the actions of an employee who was terminated in 1982 had repercussions on students in our district 36 years ago and are working to minimize the financial impact of the settlement on our current students,” the school district’s statement said. “We have split the settlement payment to span two budget years to reduce the settlement’s effect on our academic programs.”

Courtney, 82, who is now retired and living in Honolulu, did not return a phone message left for him Monday afternoon.

 Courtney’s alleged abuse of dozens of children has been well-documented. Previous legal cases involving Courtney have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements against the Seattle Archdiocese, which encompasses churches and schools throughout Western Washington.

“He’s believed to have abused at least 50 kids, and probably in excess of 100,” Pfau said.

In January 2016, the archdiocese included Courtney’s name on its list of 77 clergy and religious officials who have been “credibly accused” of child sex abuse since 1920.

Courtney, a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order, quietly had been removed from four Catholic schools across the country for molesting boys before coming to O’Dea High School in Seattle in 1974, according to court records.

By 1973, the Christian Brothers knew Courtney was “a serial sexual predator who could not be ‘cured’ or ‘treated,’ ” but the order allowed him to teach at O’Dea — the archdiocese’s flagship school for boys — from 1974 to 1978 anyway, the lawsuit alleged.

After multiple abuse reports surfaced, the archdiocese moved Courtney to Our Lady of the Lake School in Wedgwood, and then later named him principal of St. Alphonsus Parish School in Ballard. Amid more abuse allegations there, the archdiocese allowed Courtney to voluntarily resign to protect his name and the school’s reputation, the suit states.

“At the time, the Archdiocese of Seattle had no information to indicate Courtney had a prior history of sexually abusing students,” the archdiocese said it its statement. “And due to the nature of the allegation, Courtney’s supervisor did not think the incident met the standard for notifying law enforcement and did not report it as abuse.”

Courtney then used his “clean record” and “impressive resumé” to help him land a job at the public elementary school near Tacoma, the lawsuit alleges.

“Courtney then used his position at Parkland Elementary to gain access to Plaintiff D.W. and to sexually abuse him multiple times in multiple locations,” including at the school and during “other activities that Courtney arranged through his position at the school.”

Courtney spent two years at Parkland before leaving, amid more allegations, to take another teaching job in Othello, Pfau said. After several boys there claimed he molested them, too, Courtney pleaded guilty to a single felony count of indecent liberties in 1988 in Adams County and was sentenced to 24 months of community supervision.”

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