Updated 11:56 A.m. -- New Lawsuit Filed against Catholic Church in Montana

Great Falls Tribune
February 8, 2012

Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff announces a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings during a news conference Wednesday morning. The lawsuit represents 10 people claiming that they were sexually abused by priests when they were children.

Ten people have filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, claiming they were sexually abused by priests when they were children.

The sex-abuse lawsuit is the third filed against the Catholic church in Montana since last year and the first against the diocese that covers the central and eastern parts of the state.

The lawyers who filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Cascade County also represent a portion of about 160 others in one a claim against the Catholic Diocese of Helena, which covers the western part of the state.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs held a press conference this morning to announce the filing of a lawsuit against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese in Cascade County District Court.

According to Tim Kosnoff of the Seattle-based law firm of Kosnoff Fasy, one of the alleged abusers is Ted Szudera, who until recently was in active ministry in Stanford.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Timothy Becker, said Wednesday that Szudera abused him in 1978 and 1979 while Szudera was a priest in Livingston.

Becker said in an interview this morning that he reported the abuse to the diocese in 2006, but that the leadership did not discipline Szudera after launching an investigation into Becker's allegations.

Szudera was at one time a member of the diocese's independent review board, which takes up claims of abuse brought before the diocese, but the Rev. Jay Peterson, Vicar General of the diocese, Szudera was not a member of the review board at the time it took up Becker's allegation of abuse.

Peterson said an independent investigator was hired to look into Becker's abuse claim and the investigator found that it was unfounded, so no disciplinary action was taken against Szudera. Peterson said that Szudera is no longer active in ministry and that he took a leave of absence that was effective as of Jan. 1.

Peterson said the leave of absence was a "sabbatical" and that it had nothing to do with the allegation against him or any other disciplinary measures.

Peterson denied the allegations set forth in the lawsuit and said that the diocese would fight it in court.

The nine other plaintiffs are now adults and say the abuse took place at schools, missions and churches in St. Xavier, Livingston, Absarokee, Great Falls, Hays, Wolf Point and Hardin.


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