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What’s Wrong with this Picture?

August 20, 2012

Jesuit Photo Reveals Eight of 21 Men Identified as Sexual Predators
It’s a fleeting moment captured on black and white film. Some 21 Jesuit missionaries, dressed in long, black ministerial robes, smiling broadly as they faced the camera.

They appear as a band of brothers, posed at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Standing against ornate church doors, the subjects shown in the photo could be contemporary.

Instead the image is a gathering from half a century ago, a 1962 picture. The historic posing might seem respectable were it not for the fact that eight of the men have more recently been identified as sexual predators.

This isn’t to impugn the reputations of the other 13 men. But does anyone really believe authorities by now have found every sexual predator connected with the Catholic Church in Montana?

Moreover, is the public aware that the men posing as emissaries for the church descended upon trusting Native Americans in Montana, leaving behind broken lives from their untold number of crimes? Imagine accepting with goodwill men supposedly on spiritual missions only to be enslaved by criminal sexual depravity.

The photo is from “Jesuits in Montana, 1840-1960,” by Rev. Wilfred Schoenberg S.J. Ironically the book is an attempt to chronicle commendable Jesuit missionary efforts, particularly as attempts to benefit Native Americans. Instead it suggests evidence documenting pedophilia that has extended through decades of abuses.

Earlier this month, our legal team filed an amended civil lawsuit on behalf of eight sex-abuse victims against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena bringing the total number of plaintiffs in this case to 200. Ten more alleged perpetrators associated with the Diocese of Helena, Montana, have been identified. Among the 10: Egon Mallman, pictured grinning in the upper right-hand corner of the 1962 photo. The Helena Diocese case now has 26 perpetrators, both named and unnamed. The list of perpetrators continues to grow.

This month, Helena Diocese Bishop George Leo Thomas sent letters to be read by pastors to parishioners urging sex-abuse survivors to come forward. The bishop noted in his letter that the Helena Diocese is working with plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Thomas wrote: “At this point, we are working with the plaintiffs’ attorneys in an attempt to find a negotiated resolution to avoid costly and destructive litigation. A portion of the resolution procedures includes identifying any remaining victims who have yet to come forward.”

“No victim of sexual abuse should suffer alone.”

“If you know anyone who has suffered sexual abuse, please encourage them to come forward.”

This case is about public safety. I believe the latest numbers revealed this month represent a small fraction of total victims. Sexual-abuse victims tend to bury the hurt of their abuse as a coping strategy, making it difficult for them to come forward. I’ve seen first-hand how hard it is for these wounded souls to come forward and speak up. These, of course, are just the clients who have come to us. Common sense tells us there are victims and perpetrators who haven’t yet been identified. There are more out there, I am sure. I know because I’ve met with them first-hand in private meetings, as family members and friends quietly ask if I and my fellow attorneys could help someone else they know who’s been abused.

The Helena Diocese case has moved from the courtroom to mediated talks. Both sides have agreed to meet this November to discuss terms for equitably settling claims.

Getting back to the abusers newly listed in the case:

Mallman served for many years at St. Anne’s Church and Holy Family Mission in Heart Butte and St. Michael’s in Browning, roughly from the mid-1930s to the late 1970s. He has been reported as among the worst of the abusers, violently raping young children.

Another, Joseph Stimatz, was ordained in 1946 and served for many years at Little Flower Parish, the Cut Bank boarding school in Browning, as well as in Bozeman, Butte and Laurin. Stimatz allegedly sexually assaulted both boys and girls, according to witness statements.

A third to have been recently added to the list of alleged perpetrators: Father Louis Taelman, one-time Gonzaga president, also shown in the 50-year-old photo. Others: Joseph Obersinner, Leonard A. Kohlman, Augustus J. Ferretti, Alexander F. McDonald, Joseph A. Balfe and Gordon L. Keys, at the gathering but not pictured.

When we filed the amended lawsuit, I once again called upon the Helena Diocese to put forth all information pertaining to abusers about whom they’ve received complaints. While I’m encouraged at how the case is proceeding, I want to know where accused abusers were assigned and if any continue in active ministry.

The lawsuit includes 200 John Doe and Jane Doe “placeholder slots” for victims expected to come forward. The suit also asks for non-monetary reform and healing measures, such as asking the court to order the diocese to post the names of abusers on the diocese web site for 10 years. Given the decades of the abuse and the age of the shameful 1962 photo, perhaps 50 years would be more fitting.

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