Ten New Clergy Sex-Abuse Victims File Suit against Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana - from Kosnoff Fasy Pllc
February 8, 2012
One alleged predator now advises bishop on abuse; heads 4 parishes, hasn't been publicly accused before but Catholic officials knew of the allegations six years ago
GREAT FALLS, Mont., Feb. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Attorneys on Wednesday filed a new civil lawsuit on behalf of 10 child sex-abuse victims against the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana. One man says that a priest who currently advises the bishop on handling sex-abuse cases is himself a sex predator.
Father Ted Szudera is among five named individuals and numerous unnamed clerics accused of child molestation in court papers just filed in Montana Eighth Judicial District Court in Cascade County. Fr. Szudera allegedly sexually abused a teenager in 1978-1979 while assigned to St. Mary's Catholic church in Livingston, Montana. The victim says that while he was an altar boy, Fr. Szudera abused him for two years, in the church, at school and at the priest's home.
In 2006, Fr. Szudera's alleged victim told church officials about the crimes and said that Fr. Szudera had threatened him that "bad things would happen to him" if he told anyone. Following the 2006 disclosure, the diocese paid for the victim's counseling, allegedly conducted its own "investigation" but apparently took no action against Szudera. He remains in active ministry.
Great Falls Bishop Michael Warfel appointed Fr. Szudera to be on his Review Board, which advises the bishop on child sex-abuse cases. Fr. Szudera apparently maintains an active appointment on the panel. And according to church websites, Fr. Szudera now works at four Montana Catholic parishes: St. Mark's in Belt, Holy Trinity in Centerville, St. Clement's in Monarch and St. Mary's in Raynesford. However, a priest at Szudera's church said Szudera was removed from St. Mark's about a month ago and is reportedly living in Great Falls.
Szudera also works as a licensed addictions counselor. His license is overseen by the state of Montana.
The victim wrote the diocese in 2006: "Has Father Ted raped any other of God's children?"
Tim Kosnoff of Seattle, one of several attorneys representing the survivors in this case, said the diocese silenced Fr. Szudera's victim twice - first in the late 1970s and again six years ago.
"How can a bishop keep a credibly accused child molester, for six years, in parishes around kids and on a committee that's supposed to look at child sex abuse allegations?" Kosnoff asked.
On Wednesday, Kosnoff called on Warfel to release Fr. Szueda's personnel file immediately and remove him from active ministry and from the Review Board. Kosnoff also asked the bishop to explain why he kept Szudera on the review board.
Kosnoff said his legal team is investigating other possible instances of abuse by Fr. Szudera - and other current and former church officials - and implored survivors to speak up.
"Break your silence. Help today's children," Kosnoff said. "Come forward, and we'll stand with you, and help you protect others."
Fr. Szudera's victim, Tim Becker, who now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, also encouraged others to break their silence.
"Do it. Just do it," Becker said. "I held the pain in for so long. It's like a 1,000-pound weight has been lifted off my shoulders."
Other alleged child abusers named in the lawsuit include: Father Edmund Robinson from the St. Paul's Mission in Hays, Montana, Father James Reynolds from Wolf Point, Montana and Father Heretick, who abused a young girl in the mid-1980s at St. Michael's church in Absarokee, Mont. The lawsuit also alleges an unnamed perpetrator who sexually abused a boy at St. Thomas Orphanage in Great Falls. The perpetrator slept with boys in their quarters at summer camp, according to the suit.
The lawsuit includes 200 Jane Doe and John Doe "placeholder" slots, for unnamed victims expected to come forward.
The victims are seeking "non-monetary reform and healing measures," Kosnoff said, such as asking the court to order the bishop to personally visit schools and churches where abuse occurred, and posting the names of abusers on the diocese web site for 10 years. Court papers also ask the court to order the state attorney general to form a task force to annually investigate all institutions under the auspices of the diocese.
Wednesday's lawsuit was filed by the same legal team that now represents more than 160 abuse survivors suing the Diocese of Helena: Kosnoff Fasy of Seattle, Wash., Datsopolous, MacDonald & Lind of Missoula, James, Vernon & Weeks of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the Law offices of Joseph Blumel, Spokane, Wash. For more information or to report cases of clergy abuse, contact: www.kosnoff.com .