Helena Diocese Sued Over Alleged Priest Sexual Abuse

Montana’s Helena diocese is the latest Roman Catholic entity to face a lawsuit over alleged <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/clergy_abuse">priest sexual abuse. Attorneys for 32 plaintiffs—16 named and 16 unnamed—filed the lawsuit in District Court this week accusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena of hiding sexual abusers.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys held a press conference yesterday morning and announced that several former priests and church representatives “conducted illegal and immoral sexual behavior toward children” and that this behavior was permitted or kept hidden by church leaders, wrote the Helena Independent Record (Helena IR).

One of the attorneys involved released information on a number of what he described as “serial abusers” from the Helena diocese who were named in a prior lawsuit been filed against Society of Jesus, Northwest Province, said Helena IR. That lawsuit, settled this year for $166 million, involved over 500 sex-abuse claims across the Pacific Northwest.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit seek unspecified monetary punitive damages and “equitable relief” in the form of public acknowledgments, said Helena IR. In response, the diocese responded with its own press conference.

“In our initial reading, it appears that these are the same plaintiffs who brought claims against members of the Oregon-based Jesuit Order in the bankruptcy proceedings in the state of Oregon,” said Renee St. Martin Wizeman, the diocese’s communications services director. “The claims appear to be between 30 and 60 years old and involve defendants who are deceased,” she added, according to Helena IR.

The lawsuit names priests formerly from St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius “which was owned, administered and managed by the Diocese,” and others at the St. Francis Xavier School in Missoula, Ursuline School in Great Falls, other areas and priests’ estates, said Helena IR. Allegations involve both men and women in the church including orders of priests, Jesuits, Claricians, Ursuline nuns, and Sisters of Providence, say the plaintiffs’ attorney, who also said allegations were made against women abusers in the orphanages and schools operated by the RC Diocese of Helena, according to the Helena IR.

Bishop George Leo Thomas has been linked to the allegations; Thomas was second-in-command to Seattle’s Archbishop Alexander Brunett, who allegedly kept known abusers working in the ministry in the face of what plaintiffs’ attorneys say were “credible allegations,” said Helena IR. Helena IR also wrote that a number of media outlets accused former Bishop of Helena, Eldon Curtiss, who managed the diocese from 1976 to 1993, of reassigning a pedophile priest following allegations from 1959, among other allegations. Curtiss admitted to not properly examining the church’s personnel file on the priest; however, other allegations include that he protected priests from the law after accusations of their viewing child pornography.

We’ve long followed the devastating issue of sexual abuse in religious entities, including the Catholic Church.
Most recently, we wrote that a group of former New Jersey altar boys, now all middle-aged men, will receive a settlement in excess of $1 million from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton over claims that they were molested by Rev. Ronald Becker (who died in 2009) in the 1970s and 1980s when they served at Incarnation Church in Ewing, New Jersey.

Recently, the Delaware-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales agreed to pay $24 million to end 39 claims by alleged sex-abuse victims. Similar settlements have been reached in Corpus Christi, Texas; Pueblo, Colorado; and Kansas City, Missouri. Abuse claims forced the Diocese of Wilmington into bankruptcy, and it has agreed to set aside more than $77 million for 150 victims. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is fighting a half-dozen child sexual abuse lawsuits, following the arrest of four current and former priests on molestation charges. A recent grand jury report accused church leaders there of failing in their pledge to remove abusive clergy and respond to their victims.

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