On Wednesday, Sept. 21, local reporters
informed the Diocese of Helena that a
press conference had taken place at a
Helena hotel. The main focus of the
conference was allegations of child
abuse, said to have taken place
decades ago and mostly at the
historic mission school in St. Ignatius,
Mont. The school was
staffed by the Oregon Province
of Jesuits and the Ursuline Sisters,
a community of women religious.
The press conference and related
materials were replete with
inflammatory rhetoric and
sweeping allegations presented by
plaintiff lawyers with calculated intentions
in mind: to try the case in the
court of public opinion by a selective
misrepresentation of facts; to raise up potential
claimants; and to implicate the Diocese
of Helena in new litigation.
Subsequently, an amended complaint was
filed, as well as a second lawsuit.
By way of background, it is important
for the reader to note that:
- The allegations in question took
place between 35 and 60 years ago.
- All Jesuit defendants listed in this suit
are deceased, except for one presently in
assisted living/nursing care.
- The amended complaint and the second
lawsuit name deceased priests of the
Diocese of Helena.
- The Oregon Province of Jesuits,
based in Portland, Ore., already has paid
$166 million to over 500 claimants from its
schools and missions, including the majority
of the claimants named in this complaint.
To be sure, the cases recently presented
raise critical and complex legal matters to
be addressed preliminarily, including issues
of vicarious liability, diocesan responsibility
for entirely separate religious organizations,
statutes of limitations and Jesuit
bankruptcy issues, among others, all of
which will best be addressed by
those with legal expertise.
In making those determinations,
however, no stone will be left unturned.
In their efforts
to stir up public mistrust of
the Diocese of Helena, the law
firms involved raise pastoral and policy
questions that I want to address directly
from the perspective of the Diocese of Helena.
The beginning point is simple and uncomplicated:
We view child abuse not only
as a grave moral offense, but also as a
crime to be investigated and prosecuted by
law enforcement officials.
We heartily subcribe to the words of the
late Pope John Paul II, who said that “there
is no place in the priesthood and religious
life for those who would harm the young.”
For the past decade, the Diocese of Helena
has had in place aggressive policies
and procedures aimed at addressing and
preventing child abuse in our jurisdiction.
Our emphasis is on comprehensive education,
screening, criminal background
checks and training for all paid workers
and volunteers, and on safe-environment
training for the young. We have in place a
reporting telephone number and a designated
victim’s coordinator, all designed to
protect our children and youth.
A review committee that regularly oversees
the administration of these policies
and programs consists of community representatives,
including a deputy county attorney,
a former highway patrol officer,
mental health counselors, a social worker
Annually, an independent audit firm reviews
the entire diocesan program. Our
most recent audit, completed in early September,
found the Diocese of Helena once
again in compliance with the Dallas Charter
and national safe-environment policies.
In taking responsibility for our own
diocesan cases, our diocese has paid out
over $9 million, over the past two decades,
to victims of child abuse and their lawyers.
When I was appointed here as bishop just
seven years ago, the Diocese of Helena was
on the brink of financial insolvency. The
diocese still is in recovery mode.
As I have listened personally to survivors’
heart-wrenching stories, I have
been saddened by their reports of shattered
innocence, broken trust, and the spiritual
and psychological toll that abuse takes on
innocent victims at the hands of abusive
Words cannot adequately express our
sorrow or convey the depth of our apology.
On a global scale, the Catholic Church
and certain segments of its leadership have
been the object of well-deserved scorn and
mistrust for the way individual instances of
child abuse have been handled or, more accurately,
While we cannot rewrite history, we
can hope that our present-day efforts will
prevent future generations from experiencing
the same tragedies of yesteryear.
Our prayer is that Christ the Divine
Physician will heal the wounds both in
church and society that have been visited
upon the young through the scourge of
child abuse, and bring us all to a new and