HELENA — Eighteen new victims have added their names to litigation against the Helena Roman Catholic Diocese and Ursuline Nuns, Montana attorney Vito de la Cruz announced last week.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena consists of numerous parishes, including: St. Ignatius Parish and Mission; St. Xavier Mission Parish; the Ursuline Academy; and, St. Joseph’s orphanage, among others.
Most abuse victims told de la Cruz, they have lived with a terrible secret for too long. He said there are more people in the pipeline who have yet to come forward.
“They are coming forward now,” de la Cruz said, “because they no longer want to feel shame, and instead demand justice.”
The amended complaint adding the new victims was filed in Montana’s First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County on behalf of victims abused as children at Catholic parishes and boarding schools in Montana.
“Some of the students were day students, and some boarded,” de la Cruz said. “And some were abused not by priests, but by nuns who acted alone or in despicable cahoots with clergy.”
Yakima, Washington-based Tamaki Law led the legal challenge against the Northwest Jesuits in 2009-10; Tamaki represented the greatest number of plaintiffs in the lower 48 states in the $166 million bankruptcy settlement.
Blaine Tamaki, founder of Tamaki Law, said, he is not surprised by the large number of plaintiffs coming forward in Montana.
“At the beginning, I said it was the tip of a long-silent iceberg. Now, we are beginning to see the size of that iceberg,” Tamaki said. “For too long, victims believed they would never receive the justice they deserve. Now, it is their time and they deserve accountability.”
The amended complaint contends that the priests and nuns used their positions as authority figures at schools and parishes to “molest, exploit and abuse children.”
de la Cruz called the exploitation against vulnerable children “irreconcilable with the values of Christian mission to the poor.”
“Perpetrators espoused religious guidance and educational values to the community that supported them, but the truth about what happened to the children who were victimized is horrific,” de la Cruz said, adding that the group of 18 plaintiffs reaches across the demographic spectrum. “The abuse was not confined to Native American children.”
Similar to prior allegations, the legal complaint 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.”
Attorney de la Cruz and victim advocate Ken Bear Chief have spent considerable time in Montana, on the Indian reservations, in all major cities reaching out to long silent victims alleging sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the Catholic institutions’ clergy and lay staff, educating them and the public about the bitter harvest created by long-ago sowed abuse of trust on the innocent-aged minds, hearts and bodies. Many of the victims are now middle- to retirement age years.
“[W]e have earned trust,” de la Cruz states.
It is expected that many more will feel empowered to step forward, now that the veil of secrecy has been lifted. de la Cruz emphasizes that survivors can be assured that calls and contacts to Tamaki Law will be handled in a confidential manner.