Catholic order of nuns settles claim by Three Who Say They Were Abused

An attorney for the Franciscan Sisters adamantly denied the allegations, saying that the $400,000 payment was agreed upon to avoid protracted litigation.

By PAT PHEIFER, Star Tribune

Three women who say they were sexually abused as children in the 1960s by a Roman Catholic nun say they hope to find peace when they meet today with the current and former leaders of the Franciscan Sisters, based in Rochester.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson announced Thursday that two lawsuits, filed by Christine Bertrand of Sierra Madre, Calif., and Patti Schwartz of Minneapolis, were settled recently. A third filed by Bertrand’s sister, Karen Britten of Chicago, was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, Anderson said.

The women said Sister Benen Kent abused them when she was their piano teacher at St. Juliana’s parish in Chicago and when their parents took them to visit her at the order’s mother house in Rochester, where Kent was transferred in 1967.

Informed the superior

The women alleged that the order’s leader at the time, Sister Delore Rockers, knew Kent was mentally ill and should have known she was a danger to children. The women said they told Rockers about the abuse in the early 2000s but nothing was done. Kent died in 2003.

The settlement calls for a $400,000 payment to Bertrand and Schwartz, and for a “healing mass” and a private meeting today with Rockers and Sister Tierney Trueman, the order’s current president.

Tom Wieser, an attorney for the nuns, said the Franciscan Sisters vehemently deny any wrongdoing. The order agreed to the settlement and its conditions to avoid protracted and expensive litigation, he said.

“The bottom line is the Franciscan Sisters are trying to find every possible way to achieve healing and resolution and allow everyone to move on peacefully and successfully,” Wieser said.

Bertrand said she and Schwartz will split the settlement proceeds with Britten.

“We started this journey together and we’ll continue it together,” she said.

Bertrand, Schwartz and Britten each spoke Thursday. All said they hope that sharing their stories will empower other victims to come forward and will help prevent other children from being abused.

Anderson said that since Bertrand filed her lawsuit in 2005, six other women have come forward to report that the same thing happened to them as children.

Victim and survivor

“Each of them had been unable to tell and break the silence until you spoke, until you sued, until you told the truth,” Anderson said.

Said Schwartz: “We want to make sure that other victims out there learn that you can be a victim and then also a survivor. You can work through it, you can get help.”

Each of the women had repressed memories of the abuse for decades. Britten said she was the first to remember, but thought she was the only victim until her sister and friend shared their stories with her.

Pat Pheifer 651-298-1551