A new sex abuse lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena is one of the first involving abuse by nuns toward Native American children, the plaintiffs’ attorney said.
The latest suit, which also names the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province as a defendant, is the second in as many weeks that claims child rape and molestation at the hands of clergy decades ago in western Montana.
It alleges the mother superior and three nuns at the Ursuline Academy in St. Ignatius abused 22 of the plaintiffs from the 1940s to the 1970s. Another 21 plaintiffs were abused by priests who taught or were affiliated with the school, said plaintiffs’ attorney Blaine Tamaki.
“They want accountability. The perpetrators have never been criminally prosecuted, they’ve never been punished,” Tamaki said of the plaintiffs. “It’s unfortunate that the only accountability that remains for the victims is through the civil system.”
All 45 unnamed plaintiffs are American Indians, he said. Several of the alleged abusers are dead. Tamaki said he believes some are still alive, though the statute of limitations to pursue criminal charges has long passed.
Last week, 34 people filed a lawsuit the Helena diocese over similar clergy abuse allegations at Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Missoula, also dating from the 1940s to the 1970s. Tamaki said the plaintiffs are different in each case, though the two lawsuits have similarities, including some of the same schools and clergy members accused.
Both lawsuits claim the Helena diocese was negligent in allowing the abuse to happen and that it knew clergy members were abusing children and did nothing about it.
A spokeswoman for the Ursuline Sisters did not return a call for comment Tuesday.