Sacred Heart sued in clergy sexual abuse case dating back to 1960s

Grand Forks Herald/June 3, 2016

By Becky Jacobs

Sacred Heart in East Grand Forks is joining a growing list of Minnesota Catholic entities sued for clergy accused of sexual abusing children.

A letter was sent to parishioners May 26 stating that Sacred Heart’s “parish and school, along with a number of parishes and schools in our diocese and other Minnesota dioceses have recently been sued under the Minnesota Child Victims Act.”

The act, put in place in 2013, changed the statute of limitations applied in civil legal claims for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to give them a window to file claims, even from abuses that took place decades earlier. The deadline to file these claims just passed on May 25.

The lawsuit against Sacred Heart alleges that the Rev. Stanley Bourassa, who died in 2004, committed abuse while assigned to the parish from 1965 to 1968.

The suit came from the office of Jeff Anderson and Associates, which is based in St. Paul and is known for its role in cases like Bourassa’s.

Details are limited for privacy reasons, but Bourassa’s suit accuses him of sexually abusing one minor over that three-year period, attorney Mike Finnegan said.

The case hasn’t officially been filed, but it has been served and is active, Finnegan said.

“We’ll be talking with the attorneys for the diocese and discussing how to move this case forward and what’s best for everybody involved,” Finnegan said.

It may be settled or resolved, or there could be a civil case actually filed in Polk County, he said.

Bourassa is one of the six priests the Diocese of Crookston named in 2014 with credible accusations of sexual abuse made against them in the past.

Bourassa, born in 1929, was ordained in 1955, and he worked as an assistant pastor or pastor in a number of Minnesota cities, including Red Lake Falls, Crookston, Bemidji, Fosston, Thief River Falls and Barneville.

Bourassa was an assistant pastor at Sacred Heart from 1962 to 1969, and he returned as a pastor from 1977 to 1981. He retired in 1999.

Sacred Heart Pastor Xavier Ilango and Superintendent Mike Foltz signed the letter and assured parishioners that the lawsuit “should not affect the day-to-day operations of our parish and school.”

Foltz said he and other leaders were notified about the lawsuit a few days before the letter was sent out to parishioners, and they don’t know more than what they wrote in the letter.

“As this moves through the process, there will be more information available,” Foltz said.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, is a nonprofit that helps survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and its director issued a statement about the Sacred Heart letter.

“While we don’t know the specifics of this case, here’s what we do know: Catholic officials should be more honest about these horrific cases,” David Clohessy said in the release. “They should use parish bulletins, church websites and pulpit announcements to beg every single individual with information or suspicions about abuse in Catholic entities to step forward and get help from independent sources.”

The allegations against Bourassa are part of a larger issue across the state and country. Jeff Anderson and Associates has an interactive map of more than 50 offenders in Minnesota.

In a trial last fall, a St. Paul jury ordered the Diocese of Duluth pay $4.9 million in damages to Bill Weis, who said he was abused by a priest in Squaw Lake, Minn., in 1978, causing the diocese to file for bankruptcy in December. Finnegan represented Weis, and he said the cases against the Rev. J. Vincent Fitzgerald, who died in 2009, described “one of the worst predators” he’s seen in his career.

The Sacred Heart case is still new and as conversations happen, more developments should come, Finnegan said.

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