A federal district court judge has issued a $5 million judgment against a priest who served in the Catholic Diocese of Yakima in the 1970s and ’80s.
The civil lawsuit, brought by a man known as C.S. in court documents, alleged that the Rev. Dale Calhoun sexually abused him beginning in 1977 when he was 12 and ending when he was 17.
The settlement is the largest civil judgment against an individual priest in Central and Eastern Washington, according to attorneys Bryan Smith and Vito de la Cruz of Tamaki Law.
The Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, where Calhoun was ordained, was removed from the lawsuit after agreeing to settle with C.S. for between $20,000 and $25,000.
In 2014, the Yakima Diocese and C.S. agreed to a settlement of $75,000 after the latter filed suit in U.S. District Court in Yakima. Calhoun was not a named defendant in that suit, and the Yakima Diocese was not named in the latest suit.
De la Cruz said that C.S. brought suit against Calhoun because he believes the priest, instead of just the two dioceses, should be personally accountable for the alleged abuse.
“My client wants his voice heard. He suffered life-long trauma and he’s been scarred.”
Calhoun worked as an associate pastor at St. Paul Cathedral Parish in the 1970s. He also worked in Kennewick, Benton City, Ephrata and Seattle.
Now in his late 70s, he is no longer an active priest and is said to be living back in the Beaumont area.
De la Cruz said that documents obtained in the case showed that the Beaumont Diocese ignored warnings about Calhoun while he was still a seminarian in Texas. Fellow seminarians complained that he conducted a bogus human sexuality study, asking them about their sexual fantasies and masturbation. A psychiatrist who evaluated Calhoun recommended that he not be ordained, but the diocese went ahead and allowed him to become a priest, according to De la Cruz.
A few years later, Calhoun moved to Yakima and subsequently became part of the Yakima Diocese. “We were unaware of his past history of abuse,” Monsignor Robert Siler, chancellor of the diocese, said in a phone message Monday.
In Thursday’s judgment, Rosanna Malouf Peterson, chief judge of the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of Washington, said C.S. had suffered “pain, humiliation, loss of enjoyment in life and emotional damages as a result of defendant’s abusive conduct.”
In the past, Calhoun has denied any abuse occurred.
The Yakima Diocese had previously settled two other claims made against Calhoun, one by a man known as S.K., who received a $50,000 settlement after alleging he was abused as an altar boy at St. Paul Cathedral, and provided counseling to a third person.
It’s unclear if Calhoun has assets or property that can be collected in the $5 million judgment.
De la Cruz is critical that Calhoun hasn’t been laicized, or removed from the priesthood. “It’s inconceivable to me that someone with this history and these creditable accounts of sexual abuse hasn’t been laicized. In this atmosphere, where Pope Francis has taken such strides to address the issue of abuse among the clergy, the most prudent thing to do would be acknowledge the suffering of the victims (and remove him).”
According to Siler, in 1996 then-Yakima Bishop Francis George reached an agreement with Calhoun that the diocese wouldn’t laicize him and, in return, Calhoun agreed that he wouldn’t present himself publicly as a priest or minister as one.
The diocese also provides him with a small health insurance benefit.
Siler said that Monsignor John Ecker visits Calhoun periodically in Texas and “reminds him of his obligations. If he (Calhoun) were laicized, we would have absolutely no control over him.”
Siler added, “As we said last year, we’re very sorry for the abuse C.S. suffered and hope our settlement has been of help in his process of healing.”