Attorneys Say North Dakota Needs to Open up on Clergy Abuse
By Dave Kolpack
March 5, 2020
FARGO, North Dakota - Three attorneys who conducted an investigation into clergy sex abuse said Wednesday the North Dakota Legislature should open up the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits and demanded that the state’s two Roman Catholic dioceses release more files on accused priests.
The Fargo and Bismarck dioceses in January released a list of 53 clergy members with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, but it did not include the assignment histories that were compiled and released Wednesday by attorneys Michael Bryant, Tatum O’Brien and Tim O’Keeffe. The lawyers said they hope their findings will help lay out timelines and encourage victims to come forward.
“I think that it’s really important for our victims to know and really important for the public to know where these priests were located at different times,” said O’Keeffe of Fargo. “Obviously it’s a very private issue for the victims. It’s a tough thing to talk about.”
The dioceses said in a statement they have “permitted” the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation to review the files for their deacons, priests and bishops, and said its investigation is almost complete.
“The dioceses are confident that this external review will confirm that they have no clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor remaining in ministry, and that they have had no substantiated allegations of any cleric’s sexual abuse of a minor for almost 20 years,” the dioceses’ statement said.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told The Associated Press the decision by the dioceses to open up their files “speaks well of at least their present commitment to do the right thing.”
The lawyers also called for North Dakota to follow the path of several states that have passed laws creating a window for civil lawsuits on child sex abuse cases against churches and other institutions, in most instances for one or two years. Stenehjem, who led an effort to extend the statute of limitations on criminal cases of sexual abuse, said he would help promote that idea to lawmakers.
The attorneys said the suits are about more than money because it could help victims get the emotional help they need and hold abusive priests accountable.
“I don’t think this list is complete and there’s other names that should be on it,” said Bryant of Waite Park, Minnesota. “Really, it’s about finding out who’s still alive and who’s still out there as a threat to the kids.”