Civil suit against Bismarck diocese for abuse settled
A civil suit brought against the Diocese of Bismarck by a man who claimed a priest with North Dakota ties sexually abused him has been settled.
Both parties involved in civil case John Doe No. 87 vs. the Diocese of Bismarck filed in U.S. District Court in Hawaii agreed to settlement terms last month, triggering a court-ordered dismissal of the case Friday. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in July.
Colorado resident Steven Crochet, 46, who agreed to waive his anonymity as the plaintiff in the suit during an interview with The Press in January, accused Rev. Maurice G. McNeely of forcing Crochet -- then a pre-teen -- to perform oral sex on him at a U.S. Army base in Hawaii in the mid-1970s.
Both Crochet's attorney, Florida-based Adam Horowitz and diocese spokesman Matthew Kurtz declined to disclose the terms of the financial settlement when contacted Friday.
"The matter has been resolved," Kurtz stated in an email. "Out of respect for the privacy of the plaintiff, the Diocese of Bismarck has no comment at this time."
Horowitz and a member of the Bishop Ryan High School graduating class of 1961 and Minot native Bill Guenthner have said McNeely spent time between 1950 and 1980 at Catholic parishes or schools in Minot, Mandan, Parshall and Marmarth. An individual employed by St. Vincent's Catholic Church in Mott said earlier this year that church records showed McNeely had also spent time at a Catholic school in the city.
"My client is very pleased with the results," Horowitz said. "It's a measure of justice, but we won't be disclosing the settlement amount. (The settlement) is not confidential by contract, so the diocese could disclose the terms if it chooses."
Horowitz said there was no admission of guilt in the language of the settlement, which he said was not uncommon in civil suits that are resolved.
"Steven knows what happened to him as a child," Horowitz said. "I don't think he needed to hear from a jury necessarily that he was abused. He knows that. This is vindication for him. This allows him to get the counseling that he needs and to continue to heal in a positive way."
Teri McCormick of Mandan said Friday that she's disappointed that there was no admission of guilt in the settlement. McCormick said her late husband, David Stephens, was sexually abused by McNeely in Parshall in the 1960s.
"There's no question in my mind that Father McNeely is guilty of these crimes," McCormick said. "What he did to my husband affected him a lot. It got David into drugs and he struggled with it his entire life. It's sad that these priests can commit these abuses and never get punished for them. They just get moved."
When Stephens confronted McNeely about the abuse decades ago, the priest responded by saying, "Who's going to believe you?" according to McCormick.
"There were others, it wasn't just David," McCormick said. "David didn't like talking about it. At one point as an adult, David wanted to get more people to come forward, but nobody wanted to talk about what happened there. It's very sad. I'm Catholic, but I would never give anything to the Catholic Church -- the way these cases are handled is just terrible."
Guenthner -- who now resides in Delaware and said he was once a seminary student within the Diocese of Bismarck -- said McNeely was known to him and his friends at Bishop Ryan as "The Hoodlum Priest" in the 1960s. Guenthner said he wasn't abused, but McNeely's conduct all those years ago began to raise red flags in his mind later in life.
"I'm happy for the victim and I hope this helps him cope with any problems that he suffered because of this," Guenthner said. "I do wish the case would have gone to trial. Some of the facts of the case would have been made public and that could have helped other victims. I encourage any other victims to come forward."
When contacted Friday, McNeely's lawyer Michael Tsuchida stated the following in an email:
"You are not authorized to speak with (McNeely)," Tsuchida wrote. "He is not in the best of health and does not need to be bothered by anyone regarding this matter. He deserves, and is entitled to, peace and quiet."
McNeely -- who has never been criminally charged -- is now in his 80s and living in Michigan. He served as the headmaster of Hawaii Family Catholic Academy in Honolulu from 1987 through 2001, according to Horowitz. McNeely authored a book titled "Catholicism Without the Guilt" in 2006.