It’s possible that just five of the 77 Catholic priests and clergy members in Western Washington identified as likely sex abusers of children were ever convicted.
The Seattle Times reported that it came to that conclusion after analyzing a list published this month by the Seattle Archdiocese. The list includes names of priests and other clergy who served or lived in Western Washington since the 1920s “for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible” following a two-year review by a consultant and an archdiocese-appointed board.
The newspaper said it could find evidence of convictions for just five, and only one of those — Paul Joseph Conn, who served at a Port Angeles church in the late 1980s — was convicted in Washington. More may have been prosecuted, the newspaper said. For some offenders, a lack of information about their whereabouts or other details makes it impossible to readily find a record of criminal charges. And some cases go back decades, before court records can be readily found.
One of those on the list is a former high ranking member of the church who has taught at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment in Yelm. Miceal Ledwith, also known as Michael Ledwith and Micheál Ledwith, was named in the list released two weeks ago, as previously reported in the Nisqually Valley News.
Ledwith has resided in Rainier, according to the list. The list states Ledwith has been “laicized,” meaning the church has removed his status as a member of the clergy.
Ledwith has been an instructor with Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment at least as recently as 2013. RSE spokesman Mike Wright said Ledwith is not currently an instructor at the school. Ledwith, contacted through RSE and other avenues, has not offered any comment on the allegations to the Nisqually Valley News.
In 2005, an Irish High Court Judge investigated the activities of priests of the Diocese of Ferns, in County Wexford, Ireland, where Ledwith served as a priest from 1967 to 2005. The resulting report was titled the Ferns Report.
Ledwith served as president of Maynooth College from 1985 until his retirement in 1995.
From 1980 until 1997, he served three terms on the International Theological Commission, a group of 30 theologians charged with advising the Holy See on theological matters. He was a secretary of three Synods of World Bishops in Rome and was appointed a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
In 1984, while Ledwith served at Maynooth College, and before he was appointed its president, a group of six former seminarians expressed concerns about Ledwith to several bishops at the college, according to the Ferns Report.
The seminarians’ concerns about Ledwith included that he placed inadequate emphasis on spiritual values, he had a “lavish and worldly” lifestyle, and that they had heard rumors he was homosexual, the report states.
The seminarians never alleged any specific sexual misconduct, according to the report; the concerns were “more of an anxiety with regard to orientation and propensity rather than with specific sexual activity.”
The bishops reportedly found no cause for concern and the seminarians took their concerns to the senior dean, Gerard McGinnity.
McGinnity told investigators the seminarians told him they were worried Ledwith was making “improper approaches to junior students and that these students were being selected on a certain observable basis of appearance,” the report states, noting that the students still had not made specific allegations.
As part of the report, the judge investigated allegations made in 1994 and 2000 that Ledwith sexually abused children.
Ledwith reportedly felt he was not free to comment during the investigation of the 1994 allegation due to a confidentiality clause he entered into with the alleged victim as part of a settlement. Ledwith “has at all times asserted his innocence of all allegations made against him,” the report states.
The alleged victim accused Ledwith of abusing him when he was 13, until he was 15. Ledwith reportedly said he never met the victim before he was 15.
In 2000, a new allegation against Ledwith arose, according to the report.
The complainant was reportedly suffering from depression and was admitted to St. Patrick’s Hospital for help with a severe drinking problem. In the course of his treatment, he told his doctor he had been sexually abused by Ledwith while he was a seminarian in Maynooth in 1994.
A criminal investigation into the allegations never came to fruition, because the complainant admitted the allegations were false, according to the report.
Ledwith retired from the presidency of Maynooth College in 1996. His position as a priest ended in 2005 when he was laicized, the report states.
RSE spokesperson Michael Wright defended Ledwith.
“Miceal Ledwith was never a parish priest,” Wright stated in an email. “He was university professor and then president of Maynooth University in Ireland. Miceal was one of several advisors to Pope John Paul II, as was Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany. At the time, Ratzinger was also the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition. Ratzinger did not like Miceal’s theological views. When Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict, he expelled Miceal from the Priesthood solely because of Miceal’s refusal to sever his connection with Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and for no other reason.
“Since that time, Miceal Ledwith has been an outspoken critic of the Church hierarchy. He has written and spoken extensively on the failings of the Church leadership in their dogmatic worship of Jesus rather than making any attempt to emulate him (John 14:12).
“The list published by the Archdiocese of Seattle has a small disclaimer stating, ‘we know that this list may include errors or be incomplete.’ Sadly, most people will only read the headline and not the fine print. The inclusion of Miceal Ledwith on the list is clearly an error. It is also equally part of an on-going smear campaign by the Catholic Church leadership against one who found Christ’s message in a little school in Yelm.”
The archdiocese declined to provide further identifying information for the listed clergy, including middle names and dates of birth, which would have made it easier to check some of the names. It also hasn’t publicly disclosed their case files.
Conn was a 36-year-old priest at the Queen of Angels church in 1988 when he admitted to molesting six altar boys between the ages of 11 and 13, court records show.
“This stuff is in my past, and that’s where I want to leave it,” Conn said.
Four others — Edmund Boyle, Robert Brouillette, Louis Ladenburger and George Silva — all served in Western Washington at times, but were convicted of sex crimes against children in other states. Boyle, now deceased, retired from Mount St. Vincent in Seattle in 1984 and spent a total of about 15 years in the Seattle Archdiocese. He pleaded guilty in Nevada in 1987 to one count of lewdness with a child for exposing himself, according to news accounts and interviews.
Brouillette and Silva each was assigned to O’Dea High School in Seattle for a few years during their careers, and Ladenburger served four years at St. George Parish on Beacon Hill.
Another priest on the list — Dennis Kemp, who served at St. Monica Catholic Church in Mercer Island between 2002 and 2007 — was accused of touching an altar boy, but King County prosecutors declined to charge him. “It did not rise to the level of a criminal offense, based upon the information we had at the time,” said King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Johnson, who heads the office’s Special Assault Unit.
Many cases of child sex abuse involving Catholic clergy surfaced years after the alleged crimes occurred — and beyond the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges, those familiar with the archdiocese’s review said.
“A lot of these were just not prosecuted,” said Kathleen McChesney, the consultant hired by the archdiocese’s law firm to compile the list. “The allegations were either brought after the statute of limitations, or there might not have been the proper investigations done.”
Mary Dispenza, Northwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she’s not surprised so few of the clergy were prosecuted.
“No matter how many kids they assaulted, very few predator priests are ever prosecuted,” said Dispenza, herself a survivor of a priest’s sexual abuse. To increase such dismal prosecution numbers, lawmakers must “repeal the arbitrary deadlines that stop victims from exposing these predators in court and increase penalties for those who hide child sex crimes,” she said.
Since the late 1980s, the Seattle Archdiocese has paid about $74 million in civil settlements for 392 claims of sexual abuse of minors, including at least $1.1 million paid to three of Boyle’s victims.