Abuse Victims Offered Help, Join Lawsuit

By Sasha Goldstein
Lake County Leader
September 13, 2009

POLSON — For nearly 50 years, Laurie McDonald shouldered a terrible secret that weighed on her daily.

Now, she knows she wasn’t alone in her ordeal. McDonald is one of about ten people on the Flathead Indian Reservation to come forward with tales of sexual abuse at the hands of Father A.J. Ferretti during his time at the Mission in St. Ignatius during the 1960s. Her message to other survivors is simple: you are not alone and it is not your fault.

“I remember how I felt when I picked up the phone and talked to (the lawyers),” McDonald said. “Finally. It was such a relief, and I remember the breath I took afterwards was so cleansing, that someone finally heard and was ready to step up and make something happen, to bring something to these people, to give them some measure of mental relief.”

McDonald is originally from St. Ignatius, but now lives in California. She was in Polson last Wednesday to speak with other victims, along with a group of lawyers called the Northwest Attorneys for Justice and David Clohessy, the national director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. The group is circling the northwestern United States, looking for victims of abuse to submit their names in a lawsuit against the Oregon Province Society of Jesus, whose jurisdiction covers the state of Montana. Ads sponsored by NWAJ calling for abuse survivors to step forward and “speak confidentially to attorneys” started appearing in area newspapers earlier this summer. The filing deadline for the lawsuit is Nov. 30.

“We find that while it’s very hard for any victim of abuse by any perpetrator to speak up,” Clohessy said, “it’s especially hard in smaller, rural communities and in minority areas where people are more distrustful of the legal system, more hopeless about being treated with respect and dignity, and having their privacy protected.”

Clohessy added that a priest has such enormous power, it is hard for children to speak up, especially on an Indian reservation. While a politician or a judge answers to a constituency and voters, a priest is answerable to God, which makes them imposing figures to young children, Clohessy said. Add to that the fact that many priests were moved around to different reservations in the northwest, and patterns of abuse have since been exposed.

Attorney Lee James, who was raised a Catholic, emphasized that this isn’t a crusade against the Church, but he wants to bring attention to an underrerported issue that has devastating affects on people and communities.

“This is a man of God,” James said. “This is a man who, I was taught when I grew up, was God’s representation on earth. He could hold my sins bound and keep me from getting to heaven; now that’s a powerful guy. When you trust that person for years, and then they violate you in the most horrific way, it’s more than being physically and emotionally violated: you’ve been spiritually violated.”

McDonald now realizes she wasn’t the only one abused at the hands of Ferretti, who was known as “Father Freddie.” Speaking about her three-year ordeal in the early 1960s has made her feel better, but she says the smell of incense still makes her feel sick. Her life has been marred by the abuse in more ways than one: she’s had drug and alcohol addiction, three failed marriages and two sisters and two cousins who have committed suicide as a result of abuse.

Though Father Freddie is “dead and gone,” McDonald wants to get awareness out about this issue so it doesn’t happen ever again, and if it does, to give strength to victims to speak out against the perpetrator and to prevent the cascading negative effects sexual abuse has on people’s lives.

“It’s bringing to light what happened back in those days, what was so dark and so hidden, and this man got away with so much and did so much damage,” McDonald said. “If it gives (other victims) some knowledge and saves even one kid, it’s all worth it. (The relief) is like having Father Freddie lifted off my back.”


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