The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Friday, April 1, 2011
Clergy sex cases tossed out; SNAP responds
Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])
It’s heart-breaking when deeply wounded child sex abuse victims find the courage to take action, only to be beaten down again by mean-spirited Catholic officials and predator-friendly laws. It’s especially tragic when those victims are Native Americans who were particularly vulnerable to powerful, popular, well-educated priests and nuns.
We applaud these brave men and women for exposing wrongdoers. We hope this legal setback won’t severely impede their long, tortuous recovery from horrific childhood trauma. We hope they will appeal this tragic decision. And we hope that others who were assaulted by clergy will continue to find the strength to step forward, call police, file lawsuits, expose predators, deter cover ups, protect kids and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])
Judge dismisses sex abuse lawsuit
Ten Native American plaintiffs who alleged sexual abuse by priests, nuns and brothers at a Catholic boarding school in Marty decades ago had their claims against the religious entities who ran it completely extinguished Thursday by a circuit judge in Sioux Falls.
Second Circuit Judge Bradley Zell had previously ruled in February that the plaintiffs could not collect financial damages from the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls or from several religious orders that staffed St. Paul's School on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Marty. Zell cited the 2010 South Dakota Legislature's revision of a state law governing damages in childhood sexual abuse lawsuits in his decision. That law imposes a three-year limit on commencing a civil suit from the date of the abuse, or from when a victim could reasonably be expected to discover the abuse. But last year, lawmakers also added another limitation to it that says, "No person who has reached the age of 40 years may recover damages from any person or entity other than the person who perpetrated the actual act of sexual abuse."
On Thursday, Zell dismissed the last pending claims of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty made by 10 plaintiffs, collectively known as the Zephier plaintiffs, against Blue Cloud Abbey, the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, all of whom staffed the school before it came under tribal control in 1975.
"By barring individuals who have reached the age of 40 from recovering damages, the 2010 amendment to SDCL 26-10-25 effectively precludes plaintiffs from recovering any remedy on their claims," Zell wrote.
The same issue has yet to be decided in similar lawsuits filed by former students at the St. Francis Mission boarding school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Some of those cases had been scheduled to go to trial in March, but have been on hold for months because of the suspension of 7th Circuit Judge A.P. "Pete" Fuller. Rodney J. Steele, a retired circuit judge from Brookings, was recently appointed to handle those cases by the South Dakota Supreme Court.
"He's got a massive amount of catching up to do," said Gregory Yates, co-counsel for the Native American plaintiffs in the St. Paul and St. Francis cases. "It's going to take a lot of work on the judge's part, and a lot of work from us, to get him up to speed."
The Native American lawsuits -- nearly 70 cases filed by former St. Paul School students and another 17 plaintiffs from St. Francis -- involve claims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse perpetrated by numerous religious personnel in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Most of the alleged perpetrators are deceased or very elderly.
John Manly, a California attorney and co-counsel in the St. Paul and St. Francis cases, blamed state legislators for Zell's recent decisions. Lawmakers sided with religious orders over Native American victims, he said. "That bill was put forth by religious orders, and it was designed to deny people their right to go to court as victims of child rape," he said. Because of the age limitation of 40, the amended law specifically targets the legal rights of Native people who were students during the reservation boarding school era, Manly said. "I know they targeted the Lakota and Oglala people," he said, expressing outrage that his clients have no legal recourse after "six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars" have been expended on the cases. He said he plans to appeal the dismissals.
Manly has numerous clients who were part of last week's $166.1 million settlement between the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and hundreds of Native American and Alaska Native students in Jesuit-run schools Alaska and the northwest. "The same thing is happening in Nome, Alaska, or Yakima, Wash., were certainly happening in Rosebud," he said.
The Oregon province settlement is "illustrative of a trend that religious orders are now being held accountable for abuse," Manly said, but he finds it "sad and ironic" that the South Dakota cases were dismissed at the same time that Natives in Alaska and elsewhere were being compensated for their abuse.
Yates said he doubts that the Oregon province's settlement will have any bearing on lawsuits against the Wisconsin Province of the Jesuit order, which ran the St. Francis school and mission.
South Dakota has its own laws and litigation culture, Yates said, which lawyers, insurers and risk management experts take into account. "I just don't see that what happens with the Jesuits across the nation has much to do with South Dakota," he said.
"Clergy sexual abuse cases across the country go through a process," he said. "They don't settle easily, and they don't settle early, but almost always they do settle if they're going to go to trial."
Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or [email protected] rapidcityjournal.com
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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests