|At Least 100 Montanans File Claims against Jesuits for Abuse
By Michael Moore
January 07, 2010
The search for victims is over, though many likely remain undiscovered.
Now comes the painstaking, laborious process of legal discovery by both sides in the mammoth bankruptcy case filed by the Oregon Province of Society of Jesus, the Jesuit organization that covers Washing, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
"At last count, there are some 500 claims filed in the case, and of that, somewhere north of 100 came from Montana," said Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff, who is part of a group of law firms representing victims. "Many of the cases involved only a couple of priests, but we probably have two dozen different priests or brothers who were implicated."
The case started in February, when the Jesuit order that covers the Northwest declared bankruptcy. The order said its finances were threatened by more than $25 million in damages paid in previous legal cases to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Fearing more cases and looking to limit future liability, the order declared bankruptcy.
The judge in the case eventually gave attorneys until Nov. 30 to file claims on behalf of new sex abuse victims. That led to a massive search and numerous meetings across the West, as lawyers tracked down stories of priests who abused their parishioners.
They found men like Don Havranek and Jim Jones, grown men who were children in Missoula in the 1950s and 1960s, when Father Bernard Harris served at St. Francis Xavier Church.
Havranek and Jones told their emotional, tragic story of abuse by Harris in the Missoulian, prompting dozens of calls from other victims.
"We probably wound up with 25 cases or so involving Harris," Kosnoff said.
The attorneys also interviewed many people who'd been abused by Father Augustine Feretti, who served on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
"There are at least 100 cases in Montana against the Jesuits, but we also found evidence that will lead to suits against the dioceses in Great Falls and Helena," said Kosnoff. "There will also be additional cases against the U.S. government for things that happened in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools."
In the bankruptcy case, Kosnoff said the Jesuit order will take some time to "absorb the information, and their insurance carrier will start examining the claims and assessing their exposure."
Kosnoff said he and other attorneys will examine the assets of the Jesuit order, but they won't limit their scrutiny to just the Oregon province.
"They are part of the larger, worldwide Jesuit order, and there significant assets," Kosnoff said. "But you never find out fully what the assets are. They claim poverty, but before it's over, the money appears."
The judge has also appointed a mediator who will eventually start meeting with all the principals in hopes of hammering out an agreement short of the case going to trial.
Kosnoff said the time frame for resolution is extremely uncertain, but the attorneys will press for expediency.
"We have a lot of clients who are elderly, so we're going to be pressing to get a resolution for them," he said.
Kosnoff said while that the effort to find victims was successful, it's clear there are more.
"Although the deadline for filing is past, I do think the judge will have a liberal future claims standard. That means that people who can rightly claim that they didn't connect the dots or didn't realize the case was under way may still be able to come forward."
Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at E-mail: GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM
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