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Jesuits Release Names Of Accused Sexual Abusers In Montana

St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius Montana.
Loren T. Vine (CC-BY-SA-2.5)

Thirty one members of the Jesuit Order who served in Montana are on a list of those with “credible claims” of sexual abuse against them released on Friday.

The list from the Jesuits West Province includes 111 members from 10 western states that the Order says possibly or did abuse minors or vulnerable adults.

Members of the order on the list served in Montana as far back as 1880, and as recently as 1982.

The release from Jesuits West is the latest development in the Catholic church in Montana dealing with sexual abuse scandals in recent years.

Tara Kostelecky from Billings was a victim who was part of an abuse-based lawsuit against the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings settled earlier this year. She says no action by the church can make up for past abuse, but naming abusers is important.

"These abusers, they all need to have a name because they deserve to have their names broadcasted and everybody deserves to know who they are," she said. "Because you think that - you are a child and you go to these places and that you’re going to be in a safe environment and that you’re supposed to trust these men and women who are portrayed to be godlike figures in your life. And you’re supposed to trust them. And for them to damage that is huge. It ruins a lot of faith in people.”

The provincial of Jesuits West, Scott Santarosa, said the release of names is an effort to show more transparency on behalf of leadership in the Catholic Church. 

“We cannot stand by and say at any level this is acceptable or we just need to pray this away," Santarosa said in a video released on the Province's website. "No. We need to change what is deeply wrong in our church.”

Jesuits on the list include Luis Taelman, who served at St. Ignatius Mission in 1893, and Gary Uhlenkott, who served at St. Francis Xavier Church in Missoula in the early 1980s. Uhlenkott pled guilty to viewing child pornography this year. None of the men listed are still serving. Many, like James P. Hurley, who served at Loyola High School in Missoula in the 1960s and ‘70s, are dead. The Jesuits say they remove from ministry anyone with a credible claim of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable people.

Dan Fasy is an attorney who represented multiple victims in the past lawsuit against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese. He says the Jesuits’ decision to release the names of accused abusers is a good step in addressing sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church.

“I think it’s a step in the bigger process of taking full accountability for the problem that’s been rampant in the Catholic Church," he said. "I think it’s a good step, but there’s more that needs to be done.” 

In 2014, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy to settle about 360 claims of abuse and sexual abuse.

The Great Falls-Billings Diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2017. They reached a $20 million settlement in April this year with more than 80 people who say they were sexually abused as children by clergy.

Twenty of the names included on the list released by Jesuits West today were previously published as a part of the lawsuit settlements with the Helena and Great Falls-Billings dioceses.

Abuse victim Tara Kostelecky says naming abusers is critical in the church taking responsibility for past violations and in helping victims speak up.

“It validates our story," she said. "It makes us feel like we have been heard and that our stories are real. And they affected each and every one of us individually.” 

Jesuits West plans to conduct an external review of the list to make sure it’s complete and that previous cases of abuse were handled appropriately. Any additional names that come up in that review will also be released.

The Province says inclusion on the list does not mean the accused person has been found guilty of a crime or liable for civil claims. Another Jesuit province in the Midwest and South released a similar list today.

St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Missoula and St. Ignatius Mission on the Flathead Indian Reservation are currently the only communities of Jesuit priests in Montana.

Anyone who has felt victimized by a member of the Catholic Church is encouraged to contact law enforcement and child-protective agencies, and the advocacy coordinator for Jesuits West. 

See the full list of accused Jesuits here.

The advocacy coordinator for Jesuits West, Mary Pat Panighetti, can be reached at 408-893-8398

Information aboutreporting abuse in the Helena Diocese can be found here, and for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese here.

Information on child protective services from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services can be found here.

Rosie Costain is a former MTPR reporter.
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