Sex Abuse Survivors File Suit against Helena Diocese
September 22, 2011
Thirty-four men and women sexually abused as children by Catholic priests filed a civil lawsuit late yesterday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena. Hundreds more victims, abused from the 1950s to the 1980s, are likely to follow, attorneys say. The lawsuit contains 200 John Doe and Jane Doe "placeholder" names, anticipating a large number of plaintiffs to follow.
The case was filed in Montana First Judicial District Court of Lewis and Clark County in Helena, Montana.
The lawsuit is significant in that it asks the court for a comprehensive list of non-monetary remedies on behalf of victims, including an attorney general investigation into the diocese.
Earlier this year, the Society of Jesus, Northwest Province, agreed to pay $166 million to settle more than 500 sex-abuse claims throughout the Pacific Northwest. Many of the victims in that case attended Montana schools, churches and missions operated by the Helena diocese. Attorneys say the Helena diocese must now answer for its own "gross negligence," even though the Jesuit case has settled. Today's lawsuit includes individuals who have come forth for the first time, as well as those who sued the Jesuits.
"It's wrong what happened to me and to other children," said Dana Short, 49, a Bozeman, Montana resident who was abused when she was 8 years old by Fr. Bernard Harris while attending St. Francis Xavier Church in Missoula.
"People need to know about what happened. I don't want it swept under the rug."
Short, who previously filed suit against the Jesuits, said she was angered to learn that the Helena diocese chose not to participate or make amends with victims in that case."This case is more important to me than the Jesuit case."
Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney specializing in sex-abuse cases, said this case is first and foremost is about public safety. Kosnoff said the Helena diocese is lax in warning parents of dangers and continues to put children at risk. Notably, the diocese's web site offers no information about credibly accused abusers. Multiple serial abusers from the Helena diocese were identified in the Jesuit case.
"We're calling upon the Diocese of Helena to identify all abusers about whom it has received complaints," Kosnoff said. "We want to know where they're currently assigned, if any are in active ministry and whether they have reported information to the police."
The Helena diocese has a less-than-stellar record of prioritizing safety.
The previous leader, Bishop Eldon Curtiss, reassigned Rev. Wilson Smart despite credible pedophilia allegations that first emerged in 1959. Curtiss said he had failed to examine the priest's personnel file. But in 1993, Curtiss admitted that he removed letters documenting abuse from the file, acknowledging "shortsightedness and misjudgment."
The current bishop, Bishop Thomas, was No. 2 man to Archbishop Alexander Brunett in Seattle, who kept known abusers in the ministry, despite credible allegations. That worries plaintiffs' attorneys.
Kosnoff is joined by Missoula law firm Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind, and James, Vernon and Weeks of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Among the names mentioned in today's court filing is a list of notorious, credibly accused sex-abusers spanning more than 30 years. Alleged abusers from the Helena diocese include Rev. Bernard Harris, accused of molesting boys in Missoula years ago. "Father Harry," as he was known, would take boys on camping trips to a private cabin, where he would molest them.
Another notorious offender cited in the complaint is Rev. A. J. Ferretti. "Father Freddy," as he was called, would use false pretexts to remove students from their classmates at the St. Ignatius Mission. He had a practice of raping children by bouncing them violently in his lap, court papers say.
Anyone with information about abuse in the Diocese of Helena can visit http://www.kosnoff.com/PracticeAreas/JesuitAbuseInfo.html
or http://abusedinmontana.com or call 888-667-0683.
Credibly accused abusers
Location(s) of abuse
Fr. Bernard Harris
St. Ignatius Mission, St. Ignatius
Fr. A. J. Ferretti ("Father Freddy")
St. Ignatius Mission
Fr. Bernard Harris ("Father Harry")
St. Francis Xavier School, Church Missoula
Fr. William Burke ("Father Burke")
St. Francis Xavier School
Brother Rene Gallant ("Brother Charlie")
Fr. Edward Robinson ("Father Eddy")
St. Ignatius Mission
St. Ignatius Mission
Fr. James Barry, Butte and Thompson Falls
Father Sullivan, St. Mary's, Butte
Father Delaney, St. Mary's, Butte
Father Dimmick, St. Ignatius
Father Balfe, St. Ignatius
Father Wilson Smart
(Moved around frequently by Diocese. He was in St. Peter's School in Anaconda, St. Ann's school in Butte, St. Richards in Columbia Falls, Lady of Mercy in Eureka.)
We are skilled in helping victims of priest sex abuse seek justice and heal. We have extensive experience with tribal members and non-Natives, and have handled hundreds of sex-abuse and physical abuse claims.
When you contact us, you will be treated with care and respect, and you will be given information about the Jesuit bankruptcy process. All of your questions will be answered, and your concerns will be addressed compassionately and accurately.