Priest scandal touches Oak Harbor
July 3, 2008 · Updated 2:05 PM
The scandals involving nationwide allegations of some Catholic priests sexual abuse of children has touched Oak Harbor.
A recent lawsuit in Vancouver, alleges that a former priest, Father Barry Ashwell, at St. Augustines Catholic Church in Oak Harbor, molested an altar boy over a five year period in the mid-1970s.
After the lawsuit became public, a spokesman with the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese said that there was a second accusation made against Ashwell, but that alleged molestation also occurred many years ago.
According to the spokesman, a man came forward about five years ago while Ashwell was in Oak Harbor and accused Ashwell of molesting him when the man was a child.
A forensic psychologist hired by the Archdiocese evaluated the case and found the accusation inconclusive. The Archdiocese agreed to pay for the mans counseling.
In both cases, the statute of limitations for possible criminal charges expired long ago.
The current priest at St. Augustines, Father Jack OLeary, came in June of 2000, just after Ashwell left. OLeary said Ashwell was both popular and not popular among parishioners.
Some people loved him very deeply, he said, adding that Ashwell is a very private man.
While OLeary said theres a church directive that priests change churches every six or 12 years, Ashwell had been at St. Augustines for 22 years. OLeary said he didnt know why Ashwell stayed in Oak Harbor so long or why he left at the time he did.
It wouldnt be unnatural for him to move, OLeary said.
While parishioners contacted by the News-Times declined to comment, OLeary said he suspects the accusations will make church members uncomfortable.
If (the accusations are) true, he said, its a very sad thing and will make a lot of people very unhappy.
While OLeary said the wave of sex-abuse accusations against priests havent changed the way people treat him, he added that hes very aware of the problem. He addressed the issue in a recent homily.
Its a problem and we dont have answers... he said. if this is going on, its a good thing that it has come to light.
The Clark County lawsuit names the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle and Father Barry Ashwell as defendants. The plaintiff, however, is only identified as M.H.
The lawsuit claims, in part, that Ashwell suffered from a mental disorder known as pedophilia. This disorder caused him to be compelled to perpetrate sexual acts upon young boys. Using the power, authority and trust of his position as priests and youth pastor ... Ashwell enticed, directed and coerced M.H to engage in sexual acts upon him.
The plaintiffs attorney, James Sellers of Vancouver, did not return phone calls. Ashwell could not be reached.
You can reach Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 675-6611.