FARGO — A woman plans to publicly accuse a Belcourt, N.D., priest of sexually abusing her and assert that the Catholic Diocese of Fargo blamed her for the alleged assault, according to her attorneys.
Lawyers representing the woman have named the Rev. Michael Wight of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Belcourt, alleging he sexually assaulted her while he was a priest at the church, according to a news advisory issued this week. The woman plans to speak about the alleged abuse at a news conference at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at the law offices of O'Keeffe O'Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo.
During that news conference, attorneys will accuse the Fargo Diocese of blaming the woman when she reported the alleged abuse and sending Wight to Texas without investigating her claims. Lawyers also will demand the diocese release its list of known offending priests and press North Dakota legislators to open up the statute of limitations on civil suits against offenders, the advisory said.
The advisory doesn't provide details on the alleged assault, including when it happened. Attorney Michael Bryant said the woman was a vulnerable adult when the assault allegedly occurred.
In response to questions from The Forum, the diocese said it notified the Belcourt Police Department on July 12, 2016, of the allegations. That was the same day the woman came forward, the diocese said.
“After the police had made contact with Father Wight, the Diocese notified him on July 14, 2016, that his faculties to provide ministry within the Diocese of Fargo were removed, effective immediately,” diocese spokesman Paul Braun said in a statement.
Wight is a priest with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, a community based out of the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas. He began his service at St. Ann's in Belcourt on Feb. 1, 2016, the Fargo Diocese said.
Attorneys for the woman will argue Wight was sent back to the community for counseling in an effort to resolve the alleged sexual assault, saying that move was "inadequate and reprehensible," the advisory said. Lawyers also plan to speak about the “troubling public safety danger and lack of information regarding the whereabouts and status” of Wight, the advisory said.
When asked about the current status of Wight, Braun deferred questions to the Society of Our Lady. “Due to the pending litigation, the Diocese of Fargo will have no further comment on this matter,” Braun said.
Braun did not comment on whether there are other allegations against Wight or if the church told the woman it was her fault, nor did he address the call to loosen civil law limitations.
The Fargo Diocese has said it is reviewing its files before it releases its list of credibly accused clergy. It's unclear when that list will be made public.