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  Pedophilia Accusations Hit Montana Diocese -- Seattle Man's Suit Alleging Priest Molested Him during His Youth Is Settled out of Court

By Lee Moriwaki
Seattle Times
April 1, 1993

He grew up in a devout Catholic family. At 10, he became an altar boy. At 12, the parish priest singled him out to help say Mass at a local nursing home.

The youth was thrilled to see the priesthood close up. He felt God was calling him to be a priest, too.

But when the parish priest began to fondle him, the boy became confused. When the priest began to have oral sex with him, the youth was confounded. He had never had a sexual experience before.

Such was the reverence with which he held the priest, however, that when the priest said not to tell anyone, the youth complied. "I felt if the priest said it, it must be so."

Years later the youth, now an accountant in Seattle, began to understand what had transpired. In therapy for drug and alcohol abuse, depression and confusion over his sexual identity, the man told his psychologist he and a priest back in his hometown in Montana had "had sex" over an eight-year period starting in the late 1960s.

The psychologist offered a jarringly different analysis. "No, he raped you."

Claiming severe mental and physical damage, the man - identified only by his initials WTM - recently settled out of court, for an undisclosed amount of money, a lawsuit he filed in 1990 against the Diocese of Helena, Mont., and the former priest, Wilson Smart.

But the story of alleged priest pedophilia, the latest in a series of allegations that have rocked the Catholic Church, is just beginning to emerge in western Montana.

In his pretrial deposition, Smart estimated he had had sexual activity with 30 boys and one seminary student.

Two more lawsuits have been filed against Smart and the Helena diocese. One was filed by an unnamed Butte resident. The other was filed by Jay Raser, an architect and former member of the Missoula Planning Board.

The allegations in all three suits, filed in Montana District Court, are similar to allegations made in other parts of the country.

News reports have indicated the Catholic Church and its insurers have paid $ 300 million to $ 400 million in cases involving sexual misconduct, including pedophilia. As many as 400 priests have faced criminal or civil complaints, according to the reports.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the figures grossly exaggerated, but did not have numbers of its own.

Raser alleged Smart befriended his family, took him to movies and on camping trips, and raped him for three years in the 1960s.

"I was told I was very special and that this was something very special between him and me, and others wouldn't understand it," said Raser, 44, who was a 13-year-old altar boy when the alleged abuse began.

Raser's father was dead and his mother was so devout she wouldn't have believed him if he had told her, Raser said.

Smart did not respond to requests to be interviewed.

In court papers, however, he acknowledged having sex with the Seattle man.

By settling out of court, the Diocese of Helena said it was not admitting to any of the lawsuit's allegations. Officials declined to discuss the other suits, which are still pending.

But the Rev. John Robertson, chancellor of the diocese, said, "I guess I would say it has caused a great deal of sadness among everyone I know who is associated with the diocese because of what is alleged to have happened and because it involved a priest."

Raser and WTM said the diocese was unresponsive to their complaints, knew or should have known of Smart's pedophilia, and moved him from parish to parish in Montana without warning parishioners.

WTM said his family was extremely active in the Catholic church in Butte, Mont. When WTM reached the seventh grade in a Catholic school, Smart began to show special attention to him and his family, said WTM. The priest became a member of the extended family, often having meals at their home, said WTM.

"Up to this point, the picture was perfect. I trusted him, my family trusted him. He appeared trustworthy," said WTM, who now is 38.

In 1967, when WTM was 12, the priest took him swimming several times at a pool outside Butte, said WTM. Smart engaged in horseplay in the changing room, wrestled with the boy in the pool, then fondled him, WTM said. Later that year, the priest invited WTM to watch television in the church rectory. Smart made him sit on his lap, then fondled and raped him, WTM said.

"I was confused. I didn't understand what was happening, but given the stature of the priesthood and the reverence with which we held the priest, when he said not to tell, he didn't have to add much more," said WTM.

Over the next several months, Smart took WTM camping. The sexual acts continued, and the priest took pornographic pictures of him, said WTM. "He showed me pornographic pictures of other boys he took to convince me it was all right," WTM said.

GIFTS AND MONEY

WTM said Smart started giving him alcohol when he was 13, and also gave him gifts and money. He let him drive his car before WTM had a license, said WTM.

"He convinced me I was a willing and voluntary participant," said WTM. "I was so totally under this man's control that my ability to give consent was completely subjugated."

Over an eight-year period, WTM estimated Smart abused him 400 to 500 times. In his court deposition, Smart disputes that figure, along with some other details of WTM's story.

WTM said that in the early years of the sexual acts, he still felt special. Smart helped him develop his skills as an altar boy, and WTM still was planning to go into the priesthood. But he also was befuddled about the nature of their relationship, a state of mind that continued into his college years at Montana State University.

He said his life seemed increasingly empty as he entered adulthood.

He began to have long talks with his sister, a born-again Christian. She showed him so much love that he realized God, through his sister, cared about him. He, too, became born-again.

WTM said he tried sharing his born-again Christianity with Smart, with whom he still was corresponding.

But Smart rebuffed him, saying he wasn't interested in his "Jesus-Holy Spirit" experiences. So in 1975, said WTM, "If there was nothing spiritual in the relationship, I could see no reason for continuing it."

But WTM suffered from drug and alcohol abuse, sexual-identity problems and difficulties with all relationships. By 1988 his family urged him to seek therapy. "They didn't know what for. They could see the outside symptoms, that I was out of control in a lot of areas of my life."

WTM began therapy and in early 1989 reported Smart to then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who had been bishop of Helena during part of the time Smart was a priest there. Hunthausen originally was named a defendant in WTM'S suit, but was dismissed before the case was settled.

In a deposition, Hunthausen said he was shocked and saddened when he received WTM's letter. But he said he knew nothing of the allegations. He had the letter sent to the Helena diocese.

The Rev. Elden Curtiss, the current bishop of Helena, said in his deposition that Smart was placed on administrative leave as soon as he received WTM's letter. He said he had no prior knowledge of sexual abuse by Smart. "I was absolutely dumbfounded when I got that letter," he said.

ALCOHOL ADDICTION

He said he sent Smart for an evaluation at Villa Louis Martin, a treatment center in Jemez Springs, N.M., which has come under criticism recently for ineffectiveness.

Curtiss said officials at Jemez Springs said Smart's primary addiction was alcohol. They assured Curtiss that Smart was "on top of it" and as long as he remained sober, "there was no reason why he couldn't continue to function in the priesthood and I would not have to worry." Curtiss returned Smart to his parish in Harlowton, Mont.

Smart said he had not sexually abused any minors while he was in Harlowton from 1980 to 1990. His last sexual encounter was in 1978 or 1979 , he said in his deposition.

He stopped, he said, because earlier alcohol treatment had taken hold. "I was able to sober up, address my problems and make several important decisions to cease my sexual activities," said Smart, who is in his early 60s.

Smart said he voluntarily resigned after 33 years in the priesthood when WTM brought his suit in 1990. At the time of his deposition in November 1991, he was working as a common laborer at a Catholic cemetery and doing office work at the Helena diocese. .

Terry Cosgrove, Smart's attorney in Helena, contended WTM's "consent" to the sexual activity barred his lawsuit. WTM denied he consented. Cosgrove and the attorneys for the diocese maintained the statute of limitations had passed for WTM to file suit. But the Montana Supreme Court ruled in late 1991 that it should be left to a local jury to decide.

Trial was scheduled to begin later this year, but the case was settled out of court last month. Attorneys would not say why. Robertson, the chancellor of the diocese, said only that all sides agreed it "was the best thing to do."

WTM said he still is in therapy. "From the outside, I'm sure people would have a tendency to think the settlement in and of itself would make all things right." He said he is facing many more years of hard work to deal with all the problems and issues in his life.

Raser, the Missoula resident, said he had repressed his encounters with Smart until he read a story about WTM's case in a Montana newspaper.

"I am upset with what happened to me. I am more upset with the way the church handled this. They put these people right back in situations where it happens again and again," said Raser.

Silver Bow County Attorney Robert McCarthy, based in Butte, said none of the incidents has been reported for prosecution and that the criminal statute of limitations has likely run out. He said the civil statute of limitations begins when a person recognizes the effect of an act.

James S. Rogers, the Seattle attorney representing WTM, Raser and the third plaintiff, indicated other lawsuits may be filed.

 
 

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