By Mike Rutledge
Enquirer staff writer
Villa Madonna Academy and St. Walburg Monastery in Covington should "stop playing legal hardball" in fighting a lawsuit filed by a former student nun, a national support group for clergy molestation victims has urged.
Emily Feistritzer, 63, of Washington, D.C., filed suit in 2002 against the school and monastery, formerly known as St. Walburg Convent, alleging nuns sexually abused her in the 1950s and '60s.
"This brave and wounded victim, Emily Feistritzer, deserves compassion, not combativeness," said David Clohessy, the St. Louis-based national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"By coming forward, she is helping others learn about this horrific problem, helping the nuns learn how to deal with future victims, and helping herself heal," Clohessy said.
Her lawsuit alleges she was "repeatedly sexually molested" by Rosemary Imbus, a science and math teacher known as Sister Eugene, at the academy, which she entered in 1955.
In 1959, in her first year at St. Walburg Convent, she alleges Sister Christopher (Marlene Bertke) molested her at age 18. She also alleged being fondled by Sister Terrance, whose full name she did not recall.
Northern Kentucky lawyer Mark Guilfoyle, representing both defendants, said in 2002: "We have not been able to substantiate any of her claims, and we plan to contest the lawsuit."
Guilfoyle on Friday referred a request for comment to Lexington lawyer Jeff Barnett, who was unavailable Friday. Messages left on the monastery's voice mail were not returned.
Feistritzer's Lexington lawyer, Angela Ford, who has represented 31 victims of abuse by Covington Diocese priests, said talks seemed to be moving toward a settlement in June.
"From last summer until June of this year, we were on a settlement course," Ford said. "But in June of this year they made a U-turn and decided to return to court to see whether they could escape liability based on issues they could raise with the court."
Since then, they have resisted turning over information and have sought dismissal of the case, Ford said.
Feistritzer said she met in October with the monastery's prioress, Sister Rita Brink, and its former prioress, Sister Mary Catherine. "We met for about an hour, and it was very difficult," Feistritzer said Friday. "It was interesting to me that they never denied that it happened. Their comment was, 'Nobody intended to do you harm.' "
Feistritzer's lawyer said she documented more than $200,000 that she spent on psychotherapy from 1978 through last year.
Feistritzer said she was a poor girl from Danville, the second oldest of eight children, and the oldest girl. She won a scholarship to Villa Madonna, where her rural Kentucky twang drew laughter from other boarding school students. "Sister Eugene took me literally under her wing, and comforted me, and one thing led to another," she said.
Feistritzer, the president and founder of the National Center for Education Information, said she reported the incidents.
In a letter SNAP officials sent to Sister Rita Brink, they noted the fall meeting.
"She assumed and hoped, like so many of us do, that if only you heard about her childhood horror, and saw her pain, that surely you would finally respond in a Christ-like manner," they wrote. "So she bared her soul, shared her secrets, made herself vulnerable to you again, so that she might be able to better recover.
"Sadly, she was bitterly disappointed," they added.
Ford, a Roman Catholic, said, "I believe cases like this require - and demand - a different response."
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