MOUNT VERNON, Wash — A former priest, who admitted to sexually abusing children in Spokane and Seattle in the past, now calls Skagit County home.
Patrick O’Donnell was legally able to move close to two schools without notifying anyone because he was never required to register as a sex offender. O’Donnell was never arrested or criminally prosecuted because, in his case, the statute of limitations expired.
When contacted at his home in Mount Vernon and asked about his close proximity to a middle school and an elementary school, O’Donnell said, “I have had no problems, for like, 40 years.”
When specifically asked about what he would tell anyone who has concerns, O’Donnell responded by saying, “I’m sorry for my past, whatever I did wrong, which was wrong… I am very sorry for. I have apologized many times.”
O’Donnell was questioned nearly a decade ago when the allegations against him fueled a civil lawsuit. Attorney Michael Pfau with Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC represented victims in a King County Superior Court room.
"Patrick O'Donnell was, without question, the Spokane Diocese' most prolific child abuser,” said Pfau. “Our law firm represented 40 plus victims alone. He would be moved to a new parish and he would molest children."
O’Donnell was at St. Paul in 1977-78, according to the Archdiocese of Seattle. Before that, he was at a number of churches in Spokane.
"He really became in many ways the poster child, the poster abuser, in the Spokane clergy crisis, which culminated in the Diocese being disgraced and filing for bankruptcy," Pfau said.
A recent viewer email sent to our Spokane affiliate focused on O’Donnell’s 2016 move to Mount Vernon. O’Donnell’s address is about a third of a mile away from Mount Baker Middle School and about a half mile from Little Mountain Elementary.
O’Donnell said, "I'm in a retirement community. There’s no young people here under 55, and, you know, what else can I do."
O’Donnell went on to say, "I had no idea about schools when I found this place. I bought in here because it was something I could afford with all of the money that I lost. That's the only reason I got here. It didn't have anything to do with being close to schools."
Even though O’Donnell admitted to sexually abusing more than 20 boys during the civil trial, he was never criminally prosecuted. His victims came forward when they were adults, and, at that time, the statute of limitations for sex crimes had expired.
Last year, Washington changed the law, eliminating the statute of limitations for sex crimes involving minors.
Mary Ellen Stone is the Executive Director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and she says this case highlights a larger community safety issue.
“Most sex offenders are not reported, they are not convicted, there are no restrictions on them whatsoever,” Stone said. “I think from a community safety perspective, you have to think there are automatically sex offenders living near the schools. So then, it becomes how do you reduce the risk for children and for vulnerable adults in particular? And that comes down to ongoing prevention programming in the schools, and parents having conversations with their kids on an ongoing basis.”
Even when someone is required to register as a sex offender, in Washington state there is no law about where sex offenders may or may not reside. The offender is constitutionally free to live wherever they choose, unless court-ordered restrictions exist.
As for O’Donnell’s past, he apologized to anyone hurt by his actions.
"I am really sorry about my past for whatever I did that was wrong... I am sorry for. I don't know what else I can do,” he said. “I had tons of therapy and everything else, and I haven't had any problem."
Bill Nutting, Assistant Superintendent for Mount Vernon Schools, told our Spokane affiliate KREM that safety is the district's utmost priority.
"The safety of our students is our paramount responsibility. Safety needs to be attended to in order to support the academic, social, and emotional growth of our students," Nutting said in a statement.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Seattle said they have no ongoing relationship with O'Donnell, and do not have a way of tracking his whereabouts. The Archdiocese of Seattle does have O’Donnell’s name on its list of credibly accused clergy and religious.