Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Filed against Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena

September 21, 2011

Thirty-four men and women who claim that they were sexually abused as children by Catholic priests filed a civil lawsuit on Tuesday against the Diocese of Helena.

The case was filed in Montana First Judicial District Court of Lewis & Clark County in Helena.

Plaintiff's attorney Tim Kosnoff of Seattle said during a press conference on Wednesday, "What we're talking about is a history that has been well documented of a very high percentage of sexually dysfunctional clergy within the Catholic church."

One of the claimants is 49-year old Dana Short of Bozeman; she says she was just 8 years old when she was molested by Father Bernard Harris of St. Francis Xavier Church School in Missoula.

Short said, "Just to come forward...because had it not been for them I would have continued to believe that I was one of the chosen few."

Kosnoff said, "There's nothing special about the Catholic church. It's just another citizen, legal citizen. Subject to the same laws that apply to the rest of us."

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 the case attended Montana schools, churches, and missions operated by the Helena diocese.

Attorneys say the Helena diocese must now answer for its own negligence, even though the Jesuit case has settled.

In response to the complaint, the Diocese of Helena says the claims appear to between 30 to 60 years old and involve defendants who are now deceased.

Renee St. Martin Wiseman of Diocesan Community Relations said, "Certainly now we would grieve with the victims of sex abuse regardless of who the perpetrator is, and we wish for their full recovery as well. And the diocese has taken steps to do that in individual cases which I'm not able to speak to specifically."

The Diocese states that no Helena priests are named in the complaint.

The lawsuit asks the court for a comprehensive list of non-monetary remedies on behalf of victims, including an attorney general investigation into the diocese

Diocese lawyers are reviewing the the complaint.

We will update you as we learn more.


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