14 Claim Abuse by Priests, Monks, Nuns

By Josh Verges
Argus Leader

December 19, 2008

Fourteen former students of what is now the Marty Indian School have accused Catholic priests, monks, nuns and others of repeated sexual abuse.

Their lawsuits filed Thursday in Minnehaha County Circuit Court are in addition to a 2003 lawsuit involving eight other ex-students, which still is pending.

The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls is named as a defendant in each case, but a lawyer for the diocese said it had no administrative control over the school.

John Manly (center), a California lawyer for plaintiffs in lawsuits filed Thursday in Minnehaha County Circuit Court, speaks Thursday at a news conference in front of St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls. With him are associates Michael Shubeck (left) and Gregory Yates.

The Blue Cloud Abbey, an order of Benedictine monks based in Marvin, established the boarding school - then called St. Paul's School - in 1954, Jeremiah Murphy said. Although the bishop must approve when and where a mission is established and whether a priest can work publicly, the reach of the diocese stops there.

"People think because it's Catholic, the bishop controls it, and 99.9 percent of the time that's true, but it isn't here," Murphy said.

He said the diocese was freed from liability in a similar complaint involving the St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain.

According to the complaints, nuns routinely beat female students and forced them to beat the younger girls, forced them to strip naked and fondled them under the auspices of reprimand or concern for their health.

Priests, especially one called Father Francis, are alleged to have fondled and/or engaged in oral sex with boys and girls alike, and a monk allegedly beat a boy while he was naked.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place between 20 and 50 years ago. For most, if not all, of the 14 accusers filing Thursday, the statute of limitations has expired for prosecution.

But their lawyers say the civil actions should proceed because the plaintiffs realized only in the past three years that their symptoms are related to clergy abuse.

The lawsuits also target Blue Cloud Abbey, the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Marty and the Blessed Sacrament Sisters in Bensalem, Penn.

The abbey's Minneapolis lawyer, Bob Stich, said those who remain at the abbey know nothing of the allegations, and the accused all are deceased.

"It's interesting that allegations like these are always made after the persons accused are dead," Stich said.

The Oblate Sisters' lawyer, Heidi Thoennes, declined to comment.

At a news conference in front of St. Joseph Cathedral, John Manly, a California lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he wants Bishop Paul Swain to name all alleged perpetrators in the diocese and stop what he says is a common practice of settling victims' complaints in secrecy. Victims must be allowed to go public with their stories, get help and seek prosecution of their abusers where possible, he said.

"You don't tell victims to shut up," Manly said.

Murphy said that the diocese makes settlements private only when the victim requests it and that the diocese hasn't paid any sex abuse victims from the Marty school.

In separate actions Thursday, the same lawyers filed clergy abuse lawsuits in Pennington County Circuit Court. They accuse priests, nuns and monks of physically and sexually abusing eight students at the St. Francis Indian School.

Details of Allegations

From the Plaintiffs: The allegations involving the St. Paul's School in Marty:

•  John F. Zephier says that an unnamed priest fondled him while he slept and that other clergy physically abused him.

•  Teresa Bernie says that priests and nuns sexually abused her but that she has repressed the details of the abuse.

•  Galen Drapeau says that a priest sexually abused him, whipped and hypnotized students and forced them to disrobe before spanking them in front of their peers.

•  D.Z. Iron Wing says that a nun fondled him on her bed and that a priest called Father Francis performed oral sex on him.

•  Joe Ford says that a monk brought him into his bedroom and beat him while his pants were down.

•  One complaint includes allegations from nine females identified only by their initials. They accuse three priests and a nun of sexual molestation and two other nuns of fondling their breasts and forcing them to strip. They also claim that the nuns forced children to participate in ritual beatings of younger students and ridiculed them about their sexual development.

Reach Josh Verges at 331-2335 or


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