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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published September 16 2013

Women take Catholic diocese to court over abuse

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.

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 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 nearby St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church parish in Benson, Anderson said.

On Monday, the diocese released a statement: “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.

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 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.