Amended Civil Lawsuit Names Three Helena Diocese Catholic Priests As Sex Abusers, from Kosnoff Fasy Trial Lawyers & Advocates

The Prnewswire
October 26, 2011

HELENA, Mont., Oct. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, an amended civil lawsuit filed by sex-abuse survivors against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena named three diocesan priests credibly accused as sexual abusers, discounting church officials' prior public assertions that no priests from their diocese have been directly at fault.

Wednesday's complaint named Rev. James Barry, Rev. Wilson F. Smart, and Rev. George Ferguson as alleged sex abusers working for the Helena diocese. The alleged sexual abuse of children took place from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Also of note: Wednesday's complaint added 44 new plaintiffs to 73 previously named plaintiffs, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 117. This case was the civil lawsuit filed by sex-abuse survivors against the Helena diocese in September.

"Bishop George Leo Thomas's statements have reinforced what grand juries and other investigative commissions around the world have concluded: Catholic bishops owe their allegiance to the Vatican and place the church's self-interest above the safety of children," said Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney and longtime advocate of sex-abuse victims.

"These cases needed to be turned over to police and local prosecutors to be investigated, and instead they were quietly buried."

Wednesday's amended complaint was filed in Montana First Judicial District Court of Lewis and Clark County in Helena. An unrelated filing from another attorney has also brought forth scores of additional claimants.

In recent weeks, Bishop Thomas of the Helena diocese has decried "inflammatory rhetoric and sweeping allegations" by plaintiffs' attorneys and has repeatedly stated that no diocesan priests have been at fault. Thomas has made these statements in op-ed articles in Helena and Great Falls newspapers and in press conferences held by his office.

Wednesday's court documents state that Rev. Ferguson ("Father Fergie"), a Helena diocesan priest, allegedly abused Mark Beringer as a child while he attended St. Anthony's Parish in Missoula.

Meanwhile, Rev. Smart, a priest who worked throughout Montana at Catholic churches and schools, admitted in the 1990s that he had molested more than 30 boys from 1957-1978. Prior legal cases have revealed that diocese officials knew of Smart's attraction to boys as early as 1959; the former Helena diocese Bishop Eldon Francis Curtiss initially denied knowledge of Smart's activities but was later forced to admit in a deposition in the early 1990s that he had read Smart's file after an accuser came forward and that Smart was sent away for counseling in 1959. Smart was later returned to active ministry. In the early 1990s, the Diocese of Helena paid out $1.7 million to settle a sex-abuse claim made by a Smart victim.

Wednesday's court papers say "the Diocese represented to Plaintiffs, their parents and the general public that the Diocese provided a safe, religious, wholesome and protected environment for children," when, in fact, children were in danger.

Court papers say the sexual abuse of children took a variety of forms, including anal rape, forced fellatio, oral sex, digital and anal penetration, vaginal penetration, exhibitionism, fondling, forced masturbation and sexually motivated "washing."

Plaintiffs' attorneys also are seeking to hold the diocese accountable for priests and nuns from different orders, who were also alleged abusers. That's because under the law, the diocese is responsible for the actions of these clergy, regardless of where they were educated or ordained, court papers say.

Plaintiff law firms in this case include Dotsopolous, McDonald & Lind in Missoula, Montana, James Vernon & Weeks in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Kosnoff Fasy PLLC in Seattle, Wash., and the Law Office of Joseph A. Blumel in Spokane, Wash.

From the Plaintiffs' legal team:

Tim Kosnoff. For the past 15 years, Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff has devoted his legal practice to advocating on behalf of sex-abuse victims. Kosnoff has successfully sued several Roman Catholic dioceses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jesuit Province of the Pacific Northwest, holding abusers and their employers accountable. Kosnoff's four-year legal battle on behalf of Jeremiah Scott, a young man sexually abused by a Mormon church elder, is chronicled in the recently published book, "The Sins of Brother Curtis," by Lisa Davis (Simon & Schuster). Kosnoff won a $3 million settlement in that case. Kosnoff manages his own firm, Kosnoff Fasy, PLLC in Seattle, and is sought by attorneys nationwide to partner on cases.

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