New Priest Abuse Suit Fuels Critics' Charges
Dumping Ground: Pedophile Clergy Were Sent to Alaska, Some Say
By Rachel D'Oro
Associated Press, carried in Anchorage Daily News
October 21, 2005
The fourth lawsuit in less than two weeks accusing an Alaska-based Catholic priest of sexual abuse was filed Thursday, fueling a conviction among critics that Alaska was a dumping ground for problem clergy.
The complaint alleges the Rev. James Laudwein molested a 14-year-old Western Alaska girl in 1980 when she visited the nearby Yup'ik Eskimo village of St. Marys. According to court documents, Laudwein agreed to hear the girl's confession, then took her to a dark room and said "her sins would be forgiven" if she touched his genitals.
Laudwein is the latest of a dozen priests who served in Alaska and have been accused publicly of abusing a child or children in the past. Most of the abuse occurred in remote villages and most of the alleged victims were Alaska Natives -- a common pattern over the decades, critics contend.
"I absolutely believe that church officials intentionally sent abusive priests to minor communities, transient communities, where kids may be less apt to tell and have less faith in the justice system," said David Clohessy, national director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Rural Alaska was a prime go-to place to send abusive priests, given its isolation and cultural reverence for authority figures, such as elders and priests, said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine priest and consultant for a Costa Mesa, Calif., law firm that has worked on more than 300 church abuse allegations nationwide, including Alaska.
Wall said he's interviewed more than 100 Alaskans alleging abuse, many taking decades to come to terms with their past.
Even though only 12 of Alaska's 500 priests who served between 1959 and 2002 face allegations -- a fraction of the nearly 4,400 priests accused nationwide -- people like Wall say the spate of allegations has only begun.
"I'm quite sure that by the time this runs its course, we can expect over 200 clients," he said. "There are whole villages we've never been able to visit that we know perpetrators were in."
In the latest lawsuit, filed in Bethel, the plaintiff is only identified as Jana Doe, a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in a small village near St. Marys, about 500 miles southwest of its diocese in Fairbanks. The diocese serves 41 parishes spread out over more than 400,000 square miles covering Alaska's Interior, the North Slope and the west coast of Alaska.
"This is among the worst kinds of ritual abuses, to take a holy sacrament so meaningful to people and twist it into an opportunity to commit a horrendous crime on a child," said Ken Roosa, the plaintiff's Anchorage attorney who has represented others alleging past abuse by Alaska-based priests.
Also named in the 17-page lawsuit is the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska and the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province.
Laudwein, who could not be reached for comment, is now living in Portland, Ore., working in a ministry with the poor, according to the Rev. John Whitney, provincial of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, based in Portland. Whitney said he was unaware about any allegations against the Jesuit priest.
"This is the first I've ever heard about this," Whitney said. "I can't give you a response."
As for Alaska being a magnet or hiding spot for problem priests, critics are wrong, Whitney said.
"It's absolutely untrue," he said. "I have never seen any evidence of that. People were sent to Alaska who requested to go to the missions there. It was considered the hardest place to go, because of the remoteness and the conditions they had to work with at the time. They wanted to spread the gospel."
Wall, who is working on several of Roosa's cases, said the challenge for plaintiffs is disproving that kind of denial by the church, which holds fast to its documents. For example, he said, it took 18 months to obtain church records for a civil lawsuit against a priest scheduled for a February trial in Nome.
Wall claims those records provide evidence that officials knew about past allegations involving the priest, the Rev. James Poole, who has since retired and lives in Spokane, Wash.
"We need to keep pushing the church to release all documents about priests," Wall said. "History will repeat itself if we don't get their records out in the open."
Fairbanks diocese officials noted that the great majority of priests assigned to the region "have and continue to serve faithfully to the church" and its mission.
"We are saddened when allegations are brought forward regarding any type of abuse to people of the diocese and we are committed to provide a safe environment within our ministries," said Fred Villa, a diocese spokesman. "We will continue to reach out to the people in need of healing and spiritual support."
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