A courtroom in Helena, Mont., could be the scene of a rare occurrence in the decadeslong crisis of sex abuse in the Catholic church: Roman Catholic women religious as defendants.
If the case goes to trial as scheduled on Dec. 1, the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province will defend themselves against allegations that 11 sisters who served at the St. Ignatius Mission church and school on the Flathead Indian Reservation from the 1940s to the early 1970s physically, sexually and emotionally abused boarding and day school students.
While about 5,000 priests and deacons in the United States have been accused of sexual abuse since 2003 in cases stretching back into the 1950s, the best estimates of U.S. women religious accused of abuse -- not counting the 11 in this case -- is around 88, according to Bishop-accountability.org, an online archive established by lay Catholics to track abuse claims.
Filed in 2011, the case in Lewis and Clark County, Mont., against the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province lists 95 plaintiffs and includes placeholders for up to 105 more in case others come forward in the future.
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