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18 join sex abuse lawsuit against Helena diocese Megan Chang-Ngaruiya

May 3, 2012

One of two major sex abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena grew Tuesday with the addition of 18 plaintiffs, bringing the total to 76 alleged victims in that case.

Vito de la Cruz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs with the Yakima, Wash.-based Tamaki Law Firm, said more plaintiffs are still to come.

The 40-page amended complaint filed in District Court in Helena outlines many specific abusive acts, including fondling, forced sodomy and an offer of cash for sex, committed by both male and female clergy on boys and girls in Helena and several other locations, from the 1940s into the 1970s.

The complaint identifies several former clergy by name. De la Cruz said allegations still to come may include more recent alleged incidents.

The Diocese of Helena was not available for comment late Tuesday afternoon, but has previously said that it has made many changes to address the issues, and that no priests in the diocese are named in the suits.

Last month, the diocese agreed to mediation in the case and another one with some 170 alleged victims, and to open many of its financial and personnel records in the process.

“Essentially, we have taken the cases, both cases, off what would normally be the typical trial track,” de la Cruz said by telephone Tuesday. That means many of the claims could be negotiated and settled out of court.

The new complaint, like the previous ones, alleges that the Helena Diocese “engaged in a pattern and practice of employing, sheltering, and protecting clergy, who it knew or should have known were engaged in sexual abuse.”

De la Cruz and victim advocate Ken Bear Chief have spent time in Montana, including on Indian reservations, and “have earned trust” among victims, the law firm said in a news release.

Defendants in the suit include the diocese, the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province and several unnamed entities.

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