Ten people recently filed a lawsuit claiming they were sexually abused as children by Roman Catholic priests and nuns in central and eastern Montana. According to the Associated Press, the defendants include a priest who was on a board that reviews allegations of child sex abuse for the church. It is the fourth sex-abuse lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church in Montana since last year and the second against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. The ten unnamed plaintiffs are now adults and say the abuse took place from the 1960s to the 1980s at schools, missions, churches and homes.
The lawsuit alleges that diocesan officials should have known about the abuse but gave the priests and nuns unfettered access to the children. Instead of removing those clergy members once victims began coming forward, the diocese intimidated the victims into keeping their silence, said Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Reverend Jay Peterson, the diocese’s vicar general, released a statement Wednesday that said the diocese has a zero-tolerance sex abuse policy and that some of the allegations involve Jesuit clergy that were assigned to the diocese years ago.
One of the priests accused in the lawsuit, Reverend Ted Szudera, was one of seven members of the diocese’s independent review board that advises the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors. As reported by the Associate Press, Szudera recently resigned from the review board and has taken a leave of absence from parish ministry. Peterson said he did not know when Szudera resigned from the board nor did he know why.
A separate lawsuit filed by forty-five American Indians against the Helena diocese last year claims that priests and nuns abused them at Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Missoula. In December, a Northern Cheyenne woman in her sixties filed a lawsuit against the Great Falls-Billings diocese, claiming she was repeatedly raped as a child by a priest at the St. Labre Mission School in Ashland.