|Jesuit Victim Search Brings Dozens of Calls
By Michael Moore
September 14, 2009
The floodgate is open and victims are pouring through.
It's been less than two weeks since attorneys Tim Kosnoff and John Allison came to Missoula to talk about a bankruptcy case involving Jesuit priests in the Northwest. Kosnoff and Allison represent people who were abused by Jesuits, and that abuse is the primary reason for the bankruptcy filing. Since 2001, the Jesuits have paid out more than $25 million to sexual abuse victims.
But more who've never told their stories remain.
"We've never quite seen anything like it," Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney, said Monday. "We've had a dozen more calls just over the weekend."
A recent ruling by the bankruptcy judge sent Kosnoff and Allison to Montana. The judge ordered that all potential abuse victims make a claim by Nov. 30.
"The notice period is short and we are just getting the word out there now," said Kosnoff. "If we had six months more, I'm sure we'd find a lot more victims, but we've got to work within the time set by the court."
Kosnoff and Allison were initially focused on two priests - both of whom have died - who worked in western Montana over the past 60 years. Father Bernard Harris worked at St. Francis Xavier in Missoula in the late 1950s and '60s, while Father Augustine Feretti spent time on the Flathead and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations.
"We've had a lot more claims involving those men, but we're also getting some new names that we're going to have to follow up on," said Kosnoff. "This has really opened the floodgates in Montana and the region."
Kosnoff said the Jesuit bankruptcy will likely flush out more victims than would have ever filed civil suits had the priests not declared it.
"We were surprised they did it, and they've definitely been hoping people wouldn't come forward," Kosnoff said. "I don't think hardly any cases have been coming out of Montana, but that's changed now. These guys were busy over here and it seems like people are going to step forward and tell what happened to them."
Since a Missoulian story on Sept. 4, more than 50 victims have contacted the attorneys. Kosnoff said some of those callers have poured out their stories, often telling them for the first time.
"I've talked to people who are talking about this for the first time since the abuse happened," he said. "They haven't told their wives, their husbands or anybody. I've gotten the sense that they are just deeply relieved to finally get this off their shoulders."
In a way, Kosnoff said the bankruptcy process may prove an easier way for victims to tell their stories. Although people will have to tell their stories, there won't be the typical cross-examination that goes on in a civil case.
"I think it's going to provide for an orderly, fair process for people, and I do think there will be a lot of good that comes out of it for these victims," Kosnoff said. "The only downside is this short notice period. I do think we may not be able to find everyone, but it's heartening the number of people we've found already."
In truth, all the victims of priest abuse will never be found, and Kosnoff and Allison know that.
"There's an element to this that will always keep people silent," Kosnoff said. "The church has really had the ability to silence people, and it's very difficult for people to bring up the past like this without someone saying, 'Hey, why are you dredging all this up?' It's always been hard to come forward, so I'm very encouraged to see people telling their stories now."
Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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