Former Jesuit Supervisor Claims Cultural Differences in Molestation Lawsuit

By Dan Joling
Anchorage [Alaska]
Downloaded March 16, 2004

The former supervisor of a Jesuit priest accused of fondling Alaska Native boys told attorneys in a deposition that he thought the alleged abuse wouldn't have much effect on the victims because their culture was "fairly loose" on sexual matters.

The Rev. William "Lom" Loyens, 77, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology, commented in a deposition that is part of a lawsuit brought by eight men who claim they were abused as boys in western Alaska villages.

The men contend that the late Rev. Jules Convert, a Jesuit village priest, fondled them as they slept, or in one case, watched a movie, between 1955 and 1977. Seven of the men were altar boys in St. Marys, Kaltag or Unalakleet. The eighth lived in a Holy Cross orphanage overseen by Convert.

Loyens is a former Jesuit Superior of Alaska. He was the provincial, or head, of the Jesuit Oregon Province, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, from 1976 to 1980. He taught in the anthropology department of the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1966 to 1974.

Loyens, now retired in Spokane, Wash., was called as a witness by an attorney for the Northern Alaska Diocese and was deposed at law offices in Spokane on Jan. 6. The entire transcript, which covered about three hours of questioning, was released to The Associated Press by attorney Kenneth Roosa, who represents the men.

Reached by phone in Spokane, Loyens had no comment on the deposition and suggested that it was unethical for the plaintiffs' attorney to release it. Loyens said he had not reviewed or signed off on a transcript, and a spokesman for the Jesuit order in Oregon said the comments were only a small part of a long deposition.

Convert died in France in 1995 at age 85. The Society of Jesus has denied the men's charges, saying no allegations of misbehavior by the priest were ever reported to his religious superiors. Church lawyers also say the standard two-year statute of limitations should apply and the lawsuit should be dismissed.

As Convert's supervisor, Loyens said in the deposition, he had no indication or suspicion that Convert might have acted inappropriately.

But when asked whether a white priest fondling an Alaska Native boy would have an impact, positive or negative, Loyens said that the Athabascan Indian and Yupik Eskimo cultures were "fairly loose" on sexual matters. He said he knew mothers in villages who played with their baby boys' testicles "and the little boy was enjoying this immensely." Loyens said there was a different attitude for sexual matters, with "older boys breaking in younger girls, and older girls breaking in younger boys."

Asked how that applied to a priest accused of molesting boys 6 to 12 years old, Loyens replied that, 30 or 40 years ago, "that would be less impressive than it would be for, say, somebody in Fairbanks or Spokane."

"So basically, it wouldn't have, in your view, much of an impact?" asked plaintiffs' attorney John Manly.

"That's what I'm inclined to say in terms of the anthropological background," Loyens replied.

Plaintiffs' attorney Roosa said the explanation from a church leader such as Loyens underlines that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church still has not accepted responsibility and has not yet been held accountable for the harm it has done.

"It is absolutely unacceptable and beyond belief that after all the publicity, all the anguish, all the scandal, and all the pain caused by priests who have raped and abused children, that Father Loyens ... would try to justify, minimize and excuse the sexual abuse of my clients by a priest on the basis of their culture," he said.

Catholic officials said Loyens' statement did not reflect church views.

"We consider sexual abuse in any culture as evil," said Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler. "I, as the bishop of Fairbanks, am committed to doing whatever I can to see that sexual abuse of youth is eliminated."

He does not know Loyens but wondered if he were quoted out of context. "I don't feel he would feel any different than we do," he said.

The Rev. Brad Reynolds, spokesman for the Oregon Province, said what was presented of Loyens' comments amounted to small slice of long deposition and the comments were made as a cultural anthropologist.

"They don't reflect his personal disgust with abuse, nor do they reflect his views as a priest," Reynolds said.

Anthropologists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks distanced themselves from Loyens' comments.

Peter Schweitzer, chairman of the UA Fairbanks anthropology department, said the views expressed in the deposition do not reflect the university's. He said anthropological arguments that excuse child molestation are nonsense.

Cultural anthropologist Phyllis Morrow, dean of the UAF College of Liberal Arts, said other cultures have different rules concerning sexual behavior. But neither Athabascan nor Yupik Eskimo culture would justify the behavior described by Manly in his questions to Loyens.

"It's not a culturally acceptable practice for adult males to satisfy their sexual urges with boys," she said.

Discussing sexual rules in other cultures is a sensitive topic, she said. But applied to the circumstances described in the lawsuit, she said, Loyens' logic is also flawed because the situation involves someone who was not part of the culture, as well as someone in a position of power over the boys.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Catholic bishop of northern Alaska, and the Oregon, Alaska and California Jesuit provinces.

The lawsuit seeks damages of more than $50,000 for each man.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.