Are Pedophiles Getting Free Pass in South Dakota?

By Stephanie Woodard
Indian Country Today Media Network
February 17, 2014

Brother Francis Chapman, or “Chappy,” (labeled “12”) and Paul Frey (“27”), both deceased, were accused of abusing children in their care at St. Francis Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota. Recently, Father Clarence Vavra, now of Minnesota, has confessed to abusing boys while at St. Francis in 1975, according to Ken Bear Chief, a paralegal and investigator with Tamaki Law Firm, in Washington State.

In March of the following year, a South Dakota circuit court judge relied on the new law to dismiss 18 of the Native American cases, telling The Huffington Post that he felt the law could be applied retroactively, in other words, to lawsuits filed before its existence. More cases were dismissed during 2011.

“Our case was six days from trial when…the court retroactively applied HB 1104,” recalled Dahlen. She and her sisters, who’d sued along with her, appealed to South Dakota’s supreme court, which again denied them the right to be heard, she said.

Father Francis Suttmiller, now deceased, was among scores of church employees, living and dead, named by Native Americans who charged that they’d been sexually abused during the mid-20th century at Church-run boarding schools, including the one where he taught, St. Paul’s Indian Mission, in Marty, South Dakota. (Courtesy Sherwyn Zephier)

Not fair, many from in and outside the state have said. “Right now, the point is not for the legislature to litigate these cases,” said state representative Troy Heinert, Rosebud Sioux. “The point is to pass a bill that will give people their day in court.” The abuse phenomenon is not confined to South Dakota, Heinert noted, but part of a worldwide phenomenon facing the Church.

A “travesty” was how Yates described SB 130. “We now know because of science that it takes most people many years to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse. The statute of limitations proposed in SB 130 gives them only a couple of years to do so and grants church entities immunity in the care of all of our children. If this bill is passed, South Dakota will make it more difficult to protect all its children.”

At press time, SB 130 was slated to have its first public airing on February 18, during a South Dakota senate judiciary committee meeting.

Among the many court documents filed in Native American lawsuits against the Catholic Church and its employees was a startlingly breezy letter between Church officials, discussing abuse of little girls by Brother Francis Chapman, or “Chappy,” at St. Francis Mission, on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation, in South Dakota.








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