A victim of sexual abuse by a former youth minister at Kirkland’s St. John Vianney Church, who recently settled a case against the Archdiocese of Seattle, says he buried the issue for some two decades, but that finally confronting the abuse has allowed him to begin the healing process.
Rolfe Eckmann of Bothell, 41, also said he knows of 10 to 12 other victims and believes there were more -- and that those who have not come forward are not being honest with themselves.
“I think a lot of people might ask, ‘Why now, after all these years?’” he said. “People who haven’t come forward really aren’t being honest with themselves. I feel good I came forward. I would never have gone to counseling for it if I hadn’t.”
Last week Eckmann and his attorney settled a lawsuit with the Archdiocese of Seattle for $635,000 over the sexual abuse, which occurred in the mid-1980s, when he was 13 and 14 years old, and went on for about a year. The youth minister, James R. Funnell, was fired by the archdiocese and was charged with sexual assault in 1989, pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
The suit alleged the archdiocese hired Funnell without a proper background check. It said a proper check would probably have found “multiple concerns about boundary issues with children” from Funnell’s past in New Orleans. Furthermore, it claimed that when Eckmann’s parents took their concerns to the parish pastor at the time, they were ignored.
Eckmann said Funnell was a convincing and charismatic person who would gradually woo boys into sexual abuse. For years Eckmann blamed himself, but he has gained a more appropriate perspective by coming forward, even though it has caused issues in his marriage that he and his wife are working through.
The settlement, however, has not brought him any sense of closure. “I realize that the case has come to an end, but this is not over. There is a lot less for me to work on. It’s still a struggle and it will be for a long time.”
After stories in Kirkland Patch and other media about the settlement of the claim, a few people involved in the youth ministry at St. John Vianney in the mid-1980s recalled rumors about Funnell at the time. One posted on the Kirkland Patch story: “The church never interviewed all of the children that Jim Funnell had contact with, and the parents were not told the truth about what happened. This is a shocking bit of news to hear 25 years later. This story is far from over.”
Funnell has since moved to Virginia and changed his name, according to Eckmann's attorney, Michael Pfau. The pastor who allegedly did nothing when approached by Eckmann's parents has since left the clergy, he added.
For its part, the Archdiocese of Seattle, the parent organization for the Catholic parishes of Western Washington, acknowledged that it did employ Funnell in the mid-'80s and that it had settled the claim by Eckmann. "The greatest concern we have in these cases is that we bring closure for the victim," said spokesman Greg Magnoni. "We try to make fair and just settlements, so they can find closure."
Magnoni added that the archdiocese has had for some 20 years strong policies protecting all in its care.
Attorney Pfau and his law firm have represented about 110 people victimized by church staff and the archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle claims. The firm has also represented victims of abuse involving other churches, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, Salvation Army and those in foster care in Washington. "We've represented hundreds of sexual abuse cases, hundreds of survivors," he said.
Pfau acknowledged that the archdiocese has implemented policies combating sexual abuse and that it has worked to reach settlements with victims. "The pressing issue now is transparency -- how did it happen and why?" he said. "My hope is that the church embraces victims."
For Eckmann, it’s the beginning of a long process of healing that is complicated and difficult. “Somebody asked me, ‘How do you feel about Jim Funnell? Do you forgive him?’ I said, ‘I feel like I am being forgiving.’”