Woman accuses North Dakota priest of abuse
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A woman who says she was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in North Dakota said Thursday she is suing the priest for the alleged assault and the Fargo Diocese for failing to protect her.
Kateri Marion choked back tears at a news conference in Fargo Thursday describing the alleged abuse by the Rev. Michael Wight of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Belcourt, located on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northeastern North Dakota. She said Wight tried to touch her sexually during confession, tried to massage her back by reaching his hands under her shirt, and gave her a hug when he was sexually aroused.
The Associated Press does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but Marion said she hoped that making her case public will help “everyone who has ever been abused in the church and whoever will be abused in the church” and asked them to come forward.
“It’s not your fault. You are the victim,” Marion said. “It was not my fault, even though I was treated like it was.”
Fargo Diocese spokesman Paul Braun said the dicocese was notified of the allegations on July 12, 2016 and contacted the Belcourt Police Department the same day. Two days later, the diocese removed Wight from his duties as a priest, Braun said in a statement.
Marion, 33, said she also reported the alleged abuse to Belcourt police “immediately.” She said police called her back a few days later and said they would let the church take care of it.
Belcourt police referred questions to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justices Services in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where officials did not immediately respond to a phone message.
Attorneys distributed a copy of their lawsuit, which seeks at least $50,000 in damages, but it had not been filed as of Thursday afternoon.
Wight had been assigned to St. Ann’s from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Corpus Christi, Texas, and began his work in North Dakota in February 2016. Officials there did not immediately respond to a phone message on Thursday.
Braun forwarded a statement from Society of Our Lady’s the Rev. Jerry Drolshagen to St. Ann parishioners in which Drolshagen called the allegation “a very serious matter that demands thorough attention and an adequate response.”
Marion said the response was not adequate.
“I can’t tell you how scared I was when I came forward,” Marion said. “My church was my everything. They were my family and they were all I had. Then I came forward and they left me ... to pick up the pieces myself.”
Marion’s attorneys called on the Fargo Diocese to release a list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. One of her attorneys, Michael Bryant, said he believes some of the priests are still active. Bryant also called on states to relax statute of limitations laws that often block legal claims for long-ago allegations of clergy sex abuse.
The Fargo Diocese said last month it is reviewing possible allegations of abuse of minors going back several decades. Braun said Thursday that the diocese will release names of credibly accused priests when that review is complete.
Bryant said Wight is now working as a janitor at the church in Texas.
This version corrects name from Fort Berthold Reservation to Turtle Mountain Reservation.