Alleged Abuse Victims File $27 Million Suit against Jackson Diocese

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 18, 2002

Two men who say they were abused by Catholic priests filed suit Wednesday against the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, alleging the church covered-up their abuse and lied to them about other cases.

Mark Belenchia of Hattiesburg, joined in the suit by his wife Donna, and an unnamed John Doe are seeking $27 million in actual and punitive damages.

The lawsuit accuses past and present leaders of the Jackson diocese of fraud and civil conspiracy in covering-up sex abuse. It is the second suit of its kind filed against the Jackson diocese this year.

In the suit, Mark Belenchia said he was abused as a teenager by a Shelby priest, the Rev. Bernard Haddican, who is deceased. The suit alleges that Bishop William Houck, the leader of the Jackson diocese, told Belenchia in a meeting two years ago that Belenchia was the only abuse victim he was aware of.

Church officials, including Houck, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. In answering Belenchia's accusation previously, Houck has said he was referring specifically to abuse victims of Haddican.

The suit also names as a defendant Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdiocese. Law was the vicar general in Jackson in the early 1970s. Law allegedly knew about Belenchia's abuse but did not report it.

Belenchia, who helped organize the Mississippi chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests last month, said he filed the suit so "people will know what's been going on the last few decades."

"I want other victims to come forward and know that they don't have to suffer," he said.

The other plaintiff is listed as John Doe, who resides in Texas. The suit says Doe grew up in Hinds County and was abused by a Jackson priest - the Rev. Paul Madden. The suit says Madden is believed to reside in Peru.

Madden allegedly abused Doe when the two took a trip to Ireland together in 1973, when Doe was 13.

The lawyers representing the Belenchias and Doe also represent the Morrison brothers, who filed a $48 million suit against the Jackson diocese in June. Kenneth, Francis and Thomas Morrison, and their mother, Dorothy Morrison, filed suit charging the Rev. George Broussard and the Jackson diocese with civil contempt and fraud for failure to report the alleged sexual abuse.

Belenchia and Doe, unlike the Morrisons, have previously received settlements of about $50,000 each from the church. Attorney Anthony Simon said the new lawsuit is different from the Morrisons'.

"Both Mark and the John Doe were lied to by the church," Simon said. "When they went to the church the church told them they had no prior knowledge of any abuse by priests. ...

"The reason that our clients took that settlement was the material misrepresentation and the lies the church told them."

Mark Belenchia and Doe are asking for $3 million each in actual damages for pain, emotional anguish and psychological injuries. Donna Belenchia is seeking $1 million. The suit also seeks $20 million in punitive damages.


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