Resurfacing Memories Lead to Lawsuit: Lapwai Woman Alleges Childhood Abuse by a Catholic Priest, Encourages Others to Come Forward

By Brad W. Gary
Lewiston Morning Tribune (Idaho)
October 14, 2008

A lawsuit filed against an Oregon-based Catholic Jesuit order alleges one of its priests abused a Lapwai woman when she was a child.

Kim (Mia) Sonneck alleges she was abused by the Rev. A.J. Ferreti while attending the Lapwai Catholic Church in the 1970s. She is also asking others who may have been abused by the priest to speak out.

Sonneck filed a lawsuit Friday against the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, in Lewiston's 2nd District Court. She spoke at a news conference Monday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse, telling reporters she had repressed the memories until last year.

Calls to the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which is alleged to have had jurisdiction over Ferreti, went unreturned Monday. The province encompasses the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, according to its Web site.

Sonneck, now 41, said speaking about the abuse is part of a healing process for her.

"I realized I had to overcome what has been on my back for many years," she said.

Ferreti served as a Catholic priest in and around Lapwai. The abuse is alleged to have taken place between 1973 and 1974 when Sonneck was about 8 years old. Her parents were going through a divorce, and Sonneck said she and her family turned to the church for guidance.

Sonneck said she was baptized by the priest during that period.

"I looked upon him as somebody who was going to save my family," she said.

Sonneck said she didn't tell anyone at the time about the alleged abuse. Some of the abuse allegedly took place in front of another child or other children, according to the suit.

By placing Ferreti in a rural location on the Nez Perce reservation, the lawsuit alleges the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province intentionally exposed children to manipulation and exploitation by the priest. Sonneck is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.

The abuse caused lifelong, ongoing and profound damages to Sonneck, according to the suit.

Ferreti is also believed to have worked in Desmet, Idaho, Sonneck said.

"I know there are others out there, and I would hope they come forward," she said. "I hope they will get help too."

Ferreti is believed to have died in 1982, said Coeur d'Alene attorney Leander James. James is part of a litigation team assembled after a change in Idaho law.

The courthouse was closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday. A copy of the suit was provided by attorneys representing Sonneck in the case.

The lawsuit is being filed under an Idaho statute that allows child sexual abuse claims to begin within five years of the child's discovery of the abuse. The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province knew, or should have known the priest "would use his clerical cloak as a cover for the sinister and perverted purposes of grooming and sexually exploiting said vulnerable children," according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges the organization violated Idaho laws and caused Sonneck and others to "suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering."

Sonneck is seeking a judgment against the church in excess of $10,000 to be proven at a jury trial, according to the suit.


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