by Brendan Kiley (the Stranger)
February 3, 2009
Rachel walked to the bathroom to fetch the family rifle, propped in the bathtub with the dirty laundry (the house didn't have running water). To make sure the gun worked, Rachel loaded a shell and blew a hole in her bedroom wall. Her father, passed out on his bed, didn't hear the shot. Rachel walked behind their small house. Her arms were too short to put the rifle to her head, so she shot herself in her right leg instead.
Rachel was found screaming in a pool of blood by her Auntie Emily and flown 229 miles to a hospital in Nome. The doctor asked if she wanted to see a priest. She said yes. In walked Father James Poole—a popular priest, radio personality on KNOM, and, according to allegations in at least five lawsuits, serial child rapist. Father Poole has never been convicted of a crime, but the Jesuits have settled numerous sex-abuse claims against him since 2005, in excess of $5 million, according to an attorney involved in four of those five lawsuits. Exact figures aren't available because some of the settlements involve confidentiality agreements. The Jesuits have never let a single case against Father Poole go to trial.
In a 2005 deposition, Rachel testified that she had been molested by Father Poole in 1975, while in Nome for her second suicide attempt, an attempted overdose of alcohol and pills. He'd come sit by her bed, put his hand under the hospital blanket, and fondle her, she said.
She traveled between Stebbins and Nome several times in the late 1970s, spending time in hospitals and receiving homes. By 1977, Rachel testified, Poole had given her gonorrhea, and by 1978 she was pregnant with his child. In an interview with The Stranger, she said Poole encouraged her to get an abortion and tell the doctors she had been raped by her father. She followed his advice. "He brainwashed me," she said. "He messed up my head, man."
Rachel Mike's father died in 2004. A year later, she heard Elsie Boudreau, another survivor of Poole's abuse, being interviewed on the radio. Listening to Boudreau, Rachel was moved to finally tell the truth.
"He's gone, and I'll never have a chance to tell him in person," she said, talking about her father between heaving sobs. "I was scared. In a way he knew, but—he never even touched me."
"This man," says Anchorage-based attorney Ken Roosa, referring to Poole, "has left a trail of carnage behind him."
The only reason Poole is not in jail, Roosa says, is the statute of limitations. And the reason he's still a priest, being cared for by the church?
"Jim Poole is elderly," answered Very Reverend Patrick J. Lee, head of the Northwest Jesuits, by e-mail. "He lives in a Jesuit community under an approved safety plan that includes 24-hour supervision."
Roosa has another theory—that Poole knows too much. "They can't put him on the street and take away his reason for keeping quiet," Roosa says. "He knows all the secrets."
Father James Poole's story is not an isolated case in Alaska. On the morning of January 14 in Seattle, Ken Roosa and a small group Alaska Natives stood on the sidewalk outside Seattle University to announce a new lawsuit against the Jesuits, claiming a widespread conspiracy to dump pedophile priests in isolated Native villages where they could abuse children off the radar.
"They did it because there was no money there, no power, no police," Roosa said to the assembled cameras and microphones. "It was a pedophile's paradise." He described a chain of poor Native villages where priests—many of them serial sex offenders—reigned supreme. "We are going to shine some light on a dark and dirty corner of the Jesuit order."
The suit, filed in the superior court of Bethel, Alaska, the day before, accuses several priests of being offenders and conspirators. Among the alleged conspirators is Father Stephen Sundborg, who is the current president of Seattle University and was Provincial of the Oregon Province of Jesuits from 1990 through 1996. (The Oregon Province includes Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska; as Provincial, Sundborg was head of the entire province.) The suit alleges that while Sundborg was head of the Northwest Jesuits, he had access to the personnel files of several pedophile priests, including one named Father Henry Hargreaves, whom he allowed to remain in the ministry. "As a direct result of Father Sundborg's decision," the suit alleges, "Father Hargreaves was able to continue molesting children, including but not limited to James Doe 94, who was raped by Father Hargreaves in 1992, when James Doe was approximately 6 years old."
Roosa and his associate Patrick Wall (a former Benedictine monk who once worked as a sex-abuse fixer for the Catholic Church) said they knew of 345 cases of molestation in Alaska by 28 perpetrators who came from at least four different countries.
This concentration of abuses is orders of magnitude greater than Catholic sex-abuse cases in other parts of the United States. Today, Roosa said, there are 17,000 Catholics in the diocese of Fairbanks, though there was a much smaller number during the peak of the abuse. Roosa compared this lawsuit to the famous Los Angeles suits of 2001, which claimed 550 victims of abuse in a Catholic population of 3.4 million.
These abusers in Alaska, Wall said, were specifically sent to Alaska "to get them off the grid, where they could do the least amount of damage" to the church's public image.
One by one, the Alaska Natives—including Elsie Boudreau, the woman whom Rachel Mike had heard on the radio—took their turns before the cameras and microphones, talking softly and nervously and choking back tears. "I am Flo Kenny," a woman with a gray ponytail and sunglasses said carefully. "I am 74 years old. And I've kept silent for 60 years. I am here for all the ones who cannot speak—who are dead, who committed suicide, who are homeless, who are drug addicts. There's always been a time, an end of secrets. This is the time."
Alphonsus Abouchuk, wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses, talked about how poor his family was and how the priests used to give him quarters after abusing him.
Rena Abouchuk, his sister, cried while she read a letter to a Franciscan monk named Anton Smario (currently living in Concord, California) who taught her catechism classes. "You did so many evil things to young children," she read, gripping her letter in one hand and an eagle feather tied to a small red sachet in the other. "God will never forgive you... You took a lot of lives." Six of her cousins, she later said, committed suicide because of Brother Smario.
The lawsuit states that Brother Smario offered children food and juice to coax them to stay after class: "He then would unzip his pants, and completely expose his genitals to these children, and masturbate to ejaculation as he walked around the classroom. He would ask the girls to touch his penis and would rub his erect penis on their backs, necks, and arms. Sometimes he would wipe or rub his semen on the girls after he ejaculated."
According to the allegations, Father Joseph Lundowski molested or raped James Does 29, 59–71, and 73–94, plus Janet Does 4–7—a total of 40 children—giving them "hard candy, money he stole from the collection plate, cooked food, baked goods, beer, sacramental wine, brandy, and/or better grades (silver, blue, or gold stars) on their catechism assignments in exchange for sexual favors."
The lawsuit also alleges Father George Endal raped and molested several boys—and, as Smario and Lundowski's boss, was the person who put Lundowski in charge of the boys dormitory in the Holy Rosary Mission School in Dillingham, Alaska, where catechism classes were split between Smario (in charge of the girls) and Lundowski (in charge of the boys). On separate occasions, Father Endal and another priest named Norman E. Donohue—who allegedly raped James Doe 69—walked in on Lundowski while he was molesting children and either quietly left the room or did nothing to stop it.
Father Francis Fallert, principal of the Copper Valley School and head of the all the Alaska Jesuits from 1976 to 1982, is accused of molesting Janet Doe 6.
The sheer concentration of known sex offenders in these isolated communities begins to look less like an accident than a plan. Their institutional protection looks less like an embarrassed cover-up than aiding and abetting. And the way the church has settled case after case across the country, refusing to let most of them go to trial for a public airing, is starting to look like an admission of guilt.
W hen Patrick Wall wore monk's robes, he must've looked like Friar Tuck. A former all-state football lineman, Wall has broad shoulders, a brawny neck, short reddish hair, and a habit of calling people "bro."
We met last week in Sea-Tac Airport's Alaska Airlines Board Room—a two-story business lounge, just past the security check, with conference tables, ergonomic chairs next to computer stations, and free espresso. He and Ken Roosa were there to meet with a client. Wall lives in California, Roosa lives in Anchorage, and many of their clients are on the West Coast, so they've done a lot of business in the Board Room. "I like to spend the night at home," Wall says, setting his airplane reading—The Name of the Rose—on the conference-room table.
Wall's first call as a sex-abuse fixer knocked on his door one morning in 1991, while he was brushing his teeth. Wall was not yet a priest, just a monk studying at St. John's University in Minnesota. The abbot came to his room before class with an urgent matter regarding another monk and said Wall would be moving into the boy's prep-school dormitory—immediately. The other monk "had an incident with a 14-year-old in the shower." Wall was to take his place.
Taken aback, Wall threw up every objection he could think of. He didn't own a computer and used the communal ones in the monastery. "We'll buy you a laptop." He helped with mass at a local parish. "We'll reassign you to campus ministry." He was on call for the volunteer fire department. "Not anymore." The abbot wouldn't take no for an answer.
So Wall packed up, moved into the boys dormitory, quickly intuited who else on the floor had been abused (5 out of the 90 residents), and coaxed them into talking about what had happened. Those cases never became public and were settled out of court. "If you're good," Wall says, "the assignments build." Wall was so good, he was ordained a year early and kept busy, working as many as 13 cases per month.
The job was harrowing and frustrating. "If you're the cleaner, you rarely find out the resolution to these things," Wall says. "Because survivors had to sign confidentiality agreements." The ultimate objective, for a cleaner, was to keep things quiet so the details never became public or went to trial. Wall slowly came to believe that his superiors were more concerned with protecting their public image than caring for survivors. It was, he says, a dark time, not least because he was struggling with his own vows of celibacy. In 1998, he asked to be laicized. By 2001, he was married to a ballet dancer and had a newborn daughter. By 2002, he was hired as a full-time researcher for the law firm Manly and Stewart investigating clerical sex-abuse cases.
Since then, he and Roosa—who often collaborate on cases with attorney John Manly—have worked over 250 cases together, all of them settled without going to trial. "I would like to see any of these cases go to trial to expose the corruption of the system," Wall says. But the church would rather pay the money than subject itself to public scrutiny, and survivors generally prefer to avoid the increased emotional turmoil of a trial. "There was one survivor who went through 11 days of questioning, of deposition," Roosa says. "The defense lawyers can make it so painful."
"If you bend a young plant, it grows at an angle," Roosa says. "Child sex abuse bends the character and maturation of a person—the abuse isn't the injury as much as the effect it has on people."
Father Poole's alleged abuses are particularly egregious, earning him a special place in Roosa's and Wall's hearts. He is their archetypal bad guy, their Dr. Mengele of the clerical sex-abuse world: Their clients have described, in sworn testimony, Poole pressing his erections against girls during junior-high dances, being caught by his own mother while masturbating in front of young girls, and much worse. "The defense lawyers have been so disgusted with Poole," Roosa says, "that they've told me off the record, 'anything you tell me about Poole, I'd believe.'"
According to a victim identified as Jane Doe 5 in a 2006 complaint, Poole first raped her during a private catechism class when she was 6 years old. From a direct transcript of her testimony:
He started fidget—finger—started to touch me digitally with his fingers. And at that time, when he started getting closer to me, I—there's a picture—I'm on the desk, a picture to the left of me is a picture of Jesus who's at the rock praying, and to my left I look at the picture to my left, and I look into James Poole's eyes. I turned away from the picture, looked into his eyes, and asked 'Not in front of Jesus, please.'... He kept telling me that in order to be a good little girl for God, I had to do this. That God wanted me to do this. And I remember a burning...
Then, she says, he raped her.
Roosa tells a story about Poole molesting a 9-year-old girl in Portland, Oregon, while simultaneously having an affair with the girl's mother. Poole supposedly told the girl's mother he would quit the priesthood and marry her, but abruptly returned to Alaska. The girl's mother committed suicide. According to Wall and Roosa, that same girl says she was molested by another priest, one who has been listed in at least three settlements in cases that reach back to the 1960s. They say that, in one incident, this priest was called to a house in Yakima to administer last rites to a dying woman in 1989. "He raped the woman on her deathbed," Roosa says. "He told the family to go into the other room, the husband heard a weird noise, went into the bedroom, and caught him raping his unconscious wife."
The woman didn't die, and by the time Roosa and Wall caught up with her family last May, the church had offered the family half a million dollars. The family said they'd file a legal complaint if Roosa and Wall could guarantee more than half a million dollars in compensation.
"No," Wall said. "Take it, bro."
Within hours of the press conference on the sidewalk in front of Seattle University on January 14—which essentially alleges that Father Stephen Sundborg allowed molester priests to minister freely as members of the Northwest Jesuits when it was his responsibility, as Provincial, to keep them away from children—Sundborg denied having any information about the Jesuit "dumping ground" in Northwest Alaska:
The allegations brought against me are false. I firmly deny them. I want the victims and the entire community to know that. The complaint filed by the plaintiffs' lawyers represents an unprincipled and irresponsible attack on my reputation. Let me be clear—my commitment to justice and reconciliation for all victims remains steadfast.
On January 31, Father Sundborg, through his spokesperson, responded to questions from The Stranger with this statement:
I want to be very clear: As Provincial of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, I would never have put a child at risk. I was never aware of any claim of child abuse concerning either Fr. James Poole or Fr. Henry Hargreaves.
As I have said repeatedly in the past, as a member of the Society of Jesus, I personally and sincerely apologize for the pain that has been suffered through the actions of some members of our order.
I am disappointed that the plaintiffs' attorneys are attempting to use falsehoods and innuendo to fuel a media campaign. Their attack on my reputation is unprincipled and irresponsible.
Nonetheless, I remain firm in my resolve to seek justice and reconciliation for all victims.
With the exception of Father Hargreaves allegedly raping James Doe 94 in 1992, no abuses—at least none that have been reported—occurred while Sundborg was Provincial.
Still, Wall says, "Stevie has a little problem."
Hargreaves, Poole, and other problem priests continued to work in the ministry during Sundborg's tenure between 1990 and 1996 and, in Elsie Boudreau's words, "We know that he knew."
Father Poole came under scrutiny as early as 1961, when complaints about his behavior reached Rome and the Father-General of the Jesuits initiated an investigation.
In 1994, Poole was sent to the Servants of the Paraclete—a Jesuit-run psychiatric facility for troubled priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico—where, he later testified in a 2004 deposition, he learned that he had boundary issues, that he "wasn't this great king and lover," and that "French-kissing" a 12-year-old girl is "wrong."
Poole denies raping anyone but admits to "French-kissing" Boudreau—and emphatically denies that French-kissing her was in any way sexual. "With Elsie, I have never had any sexual impulse," he said in the 2004 deposition, "never had any sexual temptation." Later in this same testimony, John Manly asked Poole whether he had ever French-kissed his own niece.
"No," Poole replied.
"Why?" Manly asked.
"Why not?" Manly insisted. "I think I know the answer, but I want you to say it."
"We were not that close, for one thing," Poole replied. "My brother had always lived away from us."
"Any other reason?" Manly asked.
"No," Poole said.
Monthly progress reports were sent to Sundborg during Poole's treatment in Jemez Springs. After his release, Poole continued to work as a hospital chaplain in Alaska until November of 2003, when Roosa threatened to sue the Bishop of Fairbanks over the childhood abuse of Elsie Boudreau. Poole retired shortly thereafter and was sent to Spokane, to live in an apartment near Gonzaga University. (Attempts to contact Father Poole for comment were unsuccessful.)
Father Sundborg testified in 2005 that he sent at least eight priests—including Father Poole, Father James Laudwein, and Father Craig Boly—for psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Stuart Greenberg, a leading consultant on clerical sex abuse for the Northwest Jesuits. After their visits with Dr. Greenberg, Poole, Laudwein, and Boly were returned to active ministry.
At the time of Sundborg's 2005 testimony, Father Laudwein was a defendant in a sex-abuse suit that ended in 2007 with a $50 million settlement, according to the Anchorage Daily News. And, in 1992, Father Boly wrote an essay for a book called Jesuits in Profile: Alive and Well in the U.S. about his attraction to high-school girls:
I remember being reprimanded more than once for spending too much time with visiting coeds from other local high schools. My rationalization was that if attractive young women brought their problems to me, it must be an opportunity for apostolic service. What I neglected to consider was what needs of my own the interactions with the women students were meeting.
Sundborg also contributed an essay to Jesuits in Profile, but testified in 2005 that he had no recollection of reading the book.
Dr. Greenberg—the counselor to whom Sundborg had sent Poole, Laudwein, Boly, and others for evaluation—was arrested in the summer of 2007 for surreptitiously filming staff members and patients using the bathroom at his office and, according to Roosa, filming himself masturbating while watching the films. A few weeks later, he rented a room at a motel in Renton, where he committed suicide. Police found him with a bunch of bottles of prescription pills and two slashed wrists.
"I wish I could offer you some adequate explanation," his suicide note read. "I just don't know. I deeply and profoundly apologize."
This isn't Sundborg's first go-around with fending off a sex-abuse case. In 2006, the Jesuits settled a $350,000 suit against Father Michael Toulouse, a philosophy professor at Seattle University accused of abusing a 12-year-old boy in his residence in 1968. At the time of the settlement, Father Sundborg argued that Seattle University wasn't liable, even though the abuse happened on campus, because the abuse occurred outside of his official duties as a teacher—a rare Catholic argument for the separation of church and sex.
Complaints against Toulouse (who died in 1976) date from 1950, when a Spokane father threatened to shoot Toulouse, who was then teaching at Gonzaga High School. Toulouse was transferred to Seattle, where he allegedly molested several boys, including the son of a widow in 1967. The widow and another Jesuit wrote to the province in 1968 requesting action. (Father Toulouse continued teaching at Seattle University until 1976.) When the widow's son sought compensation in 1993, Sundborg wrote back, according to the Seattle Times: "There is nothing about this matter in the provincial files, in the personnel files of Fr. Toulouse, or in the files of Seattle University."
That may be. But Father Thomas Royce, Provincial of the Northwest Jesuits from 1980 to 1986, just four years before Sundborg became Provincial, has testified that similar information about Jesuits does exist in the personnel files—that they contain information that is "special," "not public," and "not good."
He called them "the hell files."
Elsie Bourdreau is a Yu'pik Eskimo with short brown hair, plump cheeks, and, when she is not testifying at grim press conferences, a radiant smile. As Janet Doe 1, Boudreau was the first person to speak publicly about being abused by Father Poole. She kept silent about her abuse until 2005, when her daughter turned 10. "I was 10 when the abuse started," she says. "And I just couldn't shield it from my consciousness anymore." She's now employed as a consultant to law firms pursuing clerical sex-abuse cases, including the firms where Wall and Roosa work.
When Boudreau was a child, the villages of Northwest Alaska were only accessible by plane, boat, or dog sled. Many still are. For the most part, they didn't have public schools, cops, or telephones. Many of the houses were one room and lacked food and consistent heat in the below-zero weather. "The perps would soften up their victims with food and warmth," Wall says, "because that's what the kids didn't have. 'It was always warmer in the rectory,' they say. 'There was always food in the rectory. There was always candy.'"
In those villages, the priests had unusual authority. "In the village, our elders loved the church and the priests so much," Boudreau says. "They were like honored guests in our land. The priest had the utmost power, power that historically the village shaman would have had." If children complained about the priests, it was tantamount to complaining about the village shaman. "I've talked to hundreds of victims in Alaska," Boudreau says, "and many were physically hurt by parents for speaking about this."
The priests came to occupy the role of shamans by a weird confluence of history and microbiology. In the early 1900s, a Spanish-influenza epidemic ripped through Northwest Alaska, sometimes killing entire villages. They called it "the Big Sickness" or "the Big Death."
Winton Weyapuk was a child in Wales, Alaska, and was orphaned by the epidemic. In an interview from 1997, he recalled that the flu came on a dog sled. The mailman, on his monthly delivery, brought the corpse of a man who'd died on the way to Wales. Curious villagers crowded around the corpse. "The men, women, and children who came to see this body went home, and many got sick and most of them died before the next morning."
Weyapuk's father died that first night, so the family moved into an uncle's house. Most everyone in the uncle's house died, and Weyapuk and his brother Dwight lived in a one-room sod house with four corpses until someone found them. He recalls seeing white men building tripods over the sod houses, using block and tackle to pull frozen bodies up through the skylights, then blasting holes in the frozen ground with dynamite for mass graves. Family sled dogs, neglected and starving, roamed the streets and fought over human remains.
The shamans, normally counted on as healers, were helpless. The population was decimated, and the social structure had to be created from nothing: Another Wales resident remembers that, in the aftermath, so many families had been destroyed that an official from Nome came to the village with a stack of notarized wedding licenses. He lined up all the surviving men, all the surviving women, and all the surviving children, and built families at random.
Catholic missionaries made major inroads into these communities in the aftermath of the Big Sickness. (Along with the Baptists and Orthodox churches. The major churches had a summit in Sitka years prior and divided up their geographical spheres of influence.) The missionaries brought flour and coffee, built orphanages and schools. "They looked at the shamans as evil and of the devil," Boudreau says. A new social order was created. In the villages of Northwest Alaska, the Jesuits stepped into a tailor-made power vacuum.
The history of child molestation in the Catholic Church goes back centuries. The first official decree on the subject was written at the Council of Elvira, held around A.D. 305 near Granada, Spain. The precise history is complicated, but the council is traditionally believed to have set down 81 rules for behavior, the 71st of which is: "Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches." It was the harshest one-strike policy: If you're caught abusing a child, you are not only laicized, but permanently excommunicated—damned for all time.
The other major condemnation of clerical sex abuse was The Book of Gomorrah, completed by radical church reformer Father Peter Damian (a Benedictine monk, as it happens, who became a cardinal) in 1051. He appealed directly to the pope about the abuse of children, as well as consensual sex among clergy—in howling language: "O unheard of crime! O outrage to be mourned with a whole fountain of tears!... What fruitfulness can still be found in the flocks when the shepherd is so deeply sunk in the belly of the devil!"
In the 1930s, a priest-psychiatrist—and also a Benedictine—named Reverend Thomas Verner Moore researched the higher-than-usual rates of insanity and alcoholism among Catholic clergy. He suggested the church build an asylum for priests. The U.S. Catholic Bishops turned down his request in 1936. Father Moore became a Carthusian hermit.
In 1947, Father Gerald Fitzgerald founded the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez, New Mexico—the same institution Father Poole was to visit almost 50 years later.
In a 1957 letter to the Bishop of Manchester, Father Fitzgerald wrote that predatory priests (who he euphemistically refers to as "schizophrenic") cannot be effectively treated and should not be allowed to continue in the ministry:
Their repentance and amendment is superficial and, if not formally at least subconsciously, is motivated by a desire to be again in a position where they can continue their wonted activity. A new diocese means only green pastures... We are amazed to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum [the cure, or care, of souls].
By the early 1960s, Father Fitzgerald had seen enough chronic pedophiles that he did not want to treat them and have them rereleased into the ministry, but, as he proposed in a letter to Archbishop Davis, to build an "island retreat... but even an island is too good for these vipers."
In 16 centuries, church policy had evolved from one strike you're out to 30 strikes and you're sent to an island in the Caribbean.
In 1965, according to an affidavit from Fitzgerald successor Father Joseph McNamara: "Father Gerald purchased an island in [the Caribbean], near Carriacou, which had an abandoned hotel, damaged by fire, on it. This hotel was entirely removed from any civilization... This was to be Father Gerald's long sought after 'island refuge,' but it did not come to be. As is described below, Archbishop Davis ordered Father Gerald to sell the island."
Shortly thereafter, Father Fitzgerald was asked to step down. "It all became too public," Wall says. "The Holy See would never be able to explain Father Fitzgerald's leper island for pedophile priests."
In 1985, two priests and a lawyer—Father Michael Peterson, Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, and Ray Mouton—presented a report to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The report, which reads more like concerned advice than a condemnation, warns that high rates of abuse and high rates of recidivism for "treated" priests could cost the church over $1 billion and a major loss of credibility in the coming decade.
Later that year, in the first highly publicized case of a pedophile priest in the United States, Father Gilbert Gauthe admitted to abusing 37 boys in Louisiana. He accepted a plea bargain, was sentenced to 20 years, and served 10. By 1997, according to the New York Times, he had moved to Texas, where he was "arrested for fondling a 3-year-old boy" and put on supervised probation. (According to the Times, "Texas authorities did not know of his criminal record in Louisiana.") In April 2008, he was arrested again for failing to register as a sex offender.
In 1993, Canice Connors, the director of St. Luke's, a psychiatric institute for troubled clergy, told the Los Angeles Times: "The Catholic Church in North America possesses the greatest data bank of evaluation and treatment of nonincarcerated pedophiles on the continent. That data should be analyzed scientifically and shared with others studying the problem." He was in Milwaukee to present his findings to the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
In 2003, the Archdiocese of Boston agreed to pay out $85 million to 552 victims of clerical sex abuse.
Also in 2003, in the midst of negotiations to settle four claims of clerical sex abuse with the Diocese of Fairbanks, one of the church's mediators told Ken Roosa that the dioceses didn't want to offer more than $10,000. "They said they couldn't offer more money to an Alaska Native because they'd just get drunk and hurt each other," Roosa said. "And it would just encourage more victims to come forward. Unbelievable."
In September 2005, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—who'd just become the pope—asked the justice department of the Bush administration to grant him immunity from prosecution in sex-abuse cases in the United States. Ratzinger, the onetime head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was accused of "conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian" in Texas, according to the Associated Press. Ratzinger had "written in Latin to bishops around the world, explaining that 'grave' crimes such as the sexual abuse of minors would be handled by his congregation. The proceedings of special church tribunals handling the cases were subject to 'pontifical secret,'" Ratzinger's letter said. The Bush administration granted Ratzinger the immunity.
In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to more than 500 victims of clerical sex abuse.
Why does the church keep sending these priests, who have come to be such a major liability, back into ministry? "It's all about keeping the stores open, keeping the revenue rolling," Wall says. The Alaskan provinces in particular, Wall says, were a source of revenue—not from the Native population living there, but from parishioners in the lower 48 who were encouraged to donate for the Native ministry up north. "You could raise thousands to fund a mission that cost very little to run," Wall says. "The profit margin is huge."
The lawsuits against the Northwest Jesuits regarding abuses of Alaska Natives are not over. Within the coming weeks, Roosa and Wall say, more claims will be filed, more press conferences will be held, and more stories will come out.
"We talk about how we feel like we're doing God's work," says Boudreau. "It's something bigger than all of us. We're working to reveal the truth of what happened."