Lawsuit Says Montana Church Abuse Spanned Decades

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – New claims of sexual and physical abuse by Roman Catholic clerics and nuns spanning decades in eastern Montana have been lodged in state court in Great Falls.

The allegations were detailed in court documents filed Tuesday in a lawsuit pending since December against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese. They recount abuses against eleven youths at St. Paul’s Mission in Hays, the Cheyenne Home Orphanage, St. Labre Indian school and other diocese-owned sites.

Another defendant — the Illinois-based Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis — was added to the case based on alleged abuse by a nun.

The case is one of four sex-abuse lawsuits against the Catholic church in Montana since last year and the second against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said the statute of limitations precludes the pursuit of criminal charges. But Vito de la Cruz, an attorney from the Yakima, Wash., law firm that brought the December suit, said victims continue to come forward after “so many years of suffering in silence.”

“Once they hear about folks standing up for themselves they will come forward, they will expose what happened to them and they will ask for justice for what happened to them as children.”

Diocese attorney Greg Hatley says the church in the early 1990s adopted a sexual ethics policy that allows “zero tolerance” for abuse.

He said the sexual ethics policy gives individuals the opportunity to file reports of abuse, but added that he was unaware of any complaints that match up with the allegations in the lawsuit.

The most recent case cited in the lawsuit was in 1993 and involved a 12-year-old boy placed at the Cheyenne Home Orphanage run by the St. Labre mission. In that case, the boy was allegedly abused physically, sexually and emotionally by an older resident of the home — alleged events the director of the orphanage knew about but did not prevent.

The oldest allegations cover an eight-year-span beginning in 1943, when a student at St. Xavier’s mission in St. Xavier was allegedly abused by a nun who would fondle his genitals and then physically abuse him when he ejaculated.

Other allegations cited included priests and nuns raping, sodomizing or fondling girls and boys.

The director of vocations for the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Frances, Sister Rose Therese, said she could find no records indicating a nun identified in the lawsuit only as Sister Sigfrieda was ever under the direction of Illinois-based order.

Hatley said the Great Falls-Billings Diocese would examine the allegations “as provided for them under the rules governing the litigation.”

“We’ll deal with them in an appropriate matter,” he said, adding that the diocese still has not been formally served with the lawsuit.