Women take Catholic diocese to court over alleged abuse they say occurred at the hands of a priest who had ties to Willmar
ST. PAUL -- Two women who say a Catholic priest abused them as girls in Willmar said Monday that they are suing to prevent others from living through what they have endured most of their lives.
"I just felt so dirty all of those years," Lori Stoltz said as she and Kim Schmit went public with allegations that the Rev. David Roney sexually abused them in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar.
"It was the church that was hiding him," said Jan Hazen, Schmit's mother.
"It is a seed that grows and grows ... " Schmit said of the problems abuse causes. "Somebody shouldn't have to go through that."
Schmit and Stoltz are two of about a half-dozen women who have filed lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of New Ulm claiming that Roney sexually abused them when he was a priest in southern and western Minnesota.
Roney died in 2003.
St. Paul lawyer Jeff Anderson filed the suits for the women. The suits, among thousands Anderson has filed related to clergy abuse, claim that the diocese long knew Roney sexually abused boys and girls, but did little about it.
Anderson said his firm has documented 20 cases of Roney abusing children, about 15 while he was at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar. Another half-dozen were abused in the nearby St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church parish in Benson, Anderson said.
On Monday, the diocese released a statement much like it has when other priest-abuse cases have come to light: "The diocese of New Ulm deeply regrets the long-lasting and devastating effects of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy. Such misconduct requires positive action on our part, and we have been strengthening our systems and procedures in order to address this grave issue. ..."
The diocese has been named in other suits about Roney in the past decade, settling at least one with payments to victims. Monday's diocese statement said: "The diocese will be investigating the claims in the new lawsuits but have no facts to report about those claims at this time."
While the diocese reports it has established a safe environment, Anderson said it has not released a list of at least a dozen priests accused of sex abuse. The women's lawsuits seek that list.
The women seek at least $50,000 in damages. The two said they did not know the suits asked for money. They said they only want to prevent abuse.
Anderson said the diocese, and Minnesota's other Catholic dioceses, continue to hide priest abuse and he hopes the Schmit and Stoltz lawsuits, along with others he has filed, will make those lists public.
The attorney has filed thousands of clergy abuse suits around the world. In Minnesota, all had been dismissed because of a statute of limitations. However, a new law basically removes the time limit.
Anderson said Roney had a long history of sexually abusing children, some of which had been reported to church and diocesan officials.
Roney was ordained in 1945, and served in Walnut Grove, Benson, Willmar and Lafayette in southern and western Minnesota from 1955 through 1980.
Most people who file sex abuse lawsuits against churches remain anonymous, but Stoltz and Schmit said they hope that going public with their identities will help others.
Stoltz and Schmit held pictures of themselves at about the age they say they were abused while they discussed the late 1960s and early 1970s incidents. The women's mothers stood alongside.
The four women, who say they no longer consider themselves Catholics, discussed the fact that church members usually look up to priests.
"How do you go up against a church?" Stoltz asked.
Stoltz was raised in Willmar in her early years, then moved to military bases, including Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, before returning to her hometown in high school. She left after high school and said she does not return to Willmar because of the memories from St. Mary's Church.
Schmit, who still lives in Willmar, and Stoltz said they met each other while in high school and one night during what Schmit called "girl talk" learned that each had been abused.
Stoltz, now a Northfield resident, did not tell her parents, but Schmit told her mother when she got home on the Saturday it happened.
Schmit's father talked to St. Mary's school and church officials and thought the situation was being handled internally, said Hazen, who lives in New London.
Since they thought the church was dealing with the issue, Hazen said, they did not report the incident to police.
Hazen said her daughter told her on that Saturday that the priest "made me touch something really hard. Is dad like that?"
Stoltz and Schmit said they have gone to counseling, which helped them get the confidence to go public with their stories. Still, they said, their lives have not been easy.
"It's just been a really tough road," Schmit said.
She said she wants to ensure other kids do not go through that.
"Father Roney was a parasite, but the diocese is the monster," Schmit said.