A Seattle law firm has filed a civil suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings over allegations of sexual abuse of children. 10 plaintiffs, men and women, say they were abused as children, accusing multiple Catholic leaders across eastern Montana.
One of the alleged abusers currently sits on the Church’s board which investigates sexual abuse cases.
The complaint filed in District Court names five catholic priests across the Great Falls-Billings Diocese—which serves the Eastern two thirds of Montana.
These priests are accused of raping and sexually abusing the 10 plaintiffs. The complaint lists multiple additional unnamed abusers.
“We try to do the best we can and we want to protect our young people,” said Vicar General for the Diocese, Father Jay Peterson. He said these new allegations are dismaying and the Diocese has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.
“Every year we are audited by an independent group and we are in compliance, we try to make it very clear how to report an allegation,” Peterson said.
How allegations are reported is actually a part of this case. Lead attorney Tim Kosnoff is part of the law firm that is also suing the Diocese of Helena for child sexual abuse. That suit currently has over 160 plaintiffs. But he says the Great Falls-Billings Diocese is different.
“I have handled now thousands of these and I have never before come across the situation where I’m seeing an active cover-up going on in present day,” he said.
Lead Plaintiff Timothy Becker grew up in Livingston. He said Father Ted Szudera of St Mary’s Church in Livingston began abusing him when he was a 15 year old altar boy in 1978.
“He threatened me not to tell or I would go to hell, and they’ll do something to me and my family,” he said, adding the abuse continued for about a year. “It was almost a weekly thing, some weeks it was several times,” he said.
He waited until 2006 to report Szudera to the Diocese. He said he was too scared.
The church said an independent criminal investigation found no wrong-doing by Szudera. A Bishop’s review board within the church also found nothing wrong. But Lead Attorney Tim Kosnoff said he thinks the church’s review shows bias and was done in a way to prevent the case from going further. And he points out not long afterward Szudera was appointed to that very board which looks into sexual abuse claims.
“It’s an amazing example of the bishop appointing the fox to guard the henhouse,” Kosnoff said.
Szudera took a leave of absence with permission from the Diocese at the beginning of this year. Father Peterson with the Diocese defends the church’s policies and said the church maintains vigilance to protect children.