9 Minnesota clergy abuse cases being settled for $1.7 million

Thursday's announcement of a $1.7 million settlement in a sex-abuse suit against the Catholic order of the Crosiers carried a surprise ending for two plaintiffs in the case.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune/February 5, 2009

Fred Guenther and David Bidney already were on emotional tenterhooks as they prepared for the announcement Thursday that their sexual abuse lawsuits against a Roman Catholic religious order had been settled.

The Crosiers Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic religious order with an outpost south of Lake Mille Lacs, had agreed to pay nine plaintiffs $1.7 million in damages and reveal the names of the abusive priests.

When Guenther and Bidney - who had been best friends in junior high school - saw each other, the bombshell hit. They had both been abused by the same man but kept it secret for 30 years.

"We had no idea, no idea at all, none," Guenther said after the two embraced in a long hug and Bidney, who was in tears, nodded in agreement. "We didn't tell each other. I didn't tell anyone until I told a counselor in 1998."

Both men described battling emotional demons that broke up their marriages.

"I lost everything, but hiding it was the worst pain of all," Bidney said.

"The money will help with things like therapy," he said. "But without a doubt, the most important part is getting the names and the documents."

The key to the settlement was a suit filed in 2006 by Bob Skjonsby, a former Minnesotan now living in Port Orchard, Wash. Twin Cities attorney Jeff Anderson had eight other cases but was stymied because the statue of limitations on them had expired.

Skjonsby had spent 20 years as a naval officer, and the statue of limitations clock stops running while a person is in the armed forces, meaning that his case was still active. That was the legal wedge Anderson needed.

"As part of that case, we were able to do discovery," he said. "We were able to force the Crosiers to provide files of his case and all the abuse cases that were known to them."

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