Jesuits Say Half of Alaskan Claims Not Theirs

By Ed Langlois
Catholic Sentinel [Alaska]
November 17, 2005

About half of the more than 80 sex-abuse lawsuits the Jesuits are facing in Alaska involve two diocesan volunteers who were never in the Society of Jesus or under its governance.

That is why the religious community is denying legal responsibility in those cases, says the head of the Northwest's Jesuits.

"While we have worked towards healing with those we believed were harmed by Jesuits, we believe it would be an injustice to take responsibility for actions by those who were not our members or responsible to the Province," says the provincial, Father John Whitney.

The Oregon Province of Jesuits covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. Most of the abuse allegedly took place in remote Alaskan villages, where the Jesuits run missions they founded more than a century ago.

The Jesuits are seeking relief from more than 40 cases against one lay mission volunteer and two against another. Both were in the employ of the Diocese of Fairbanks.

The Northwest Jesuits have paid about $7.5 million to settle claims against Jesuits that were credible.

One Anchorage woman who says Jesuit Father James Poole abused her as a girl settled with the province and the Diocese of Fairbanks for $1 million in April. A trial involving other allegations against Father Poole is set to begin in February in Nome. He now lives in Spokane.

Also named in suits and removed from ministry are Father James Jacobsen, longtime chaplain at Oregon State Penitentiary, and Father James Laudwein, who until last month served downtown Portland parishes and the city's Native American Catholics.

A suit filed last month in Alaska accused Father Jacobson of sexually assaulting two women in Alaska during the 1960s and '70s and fathering two sons. The priest acknowledges the relationships, but denies that he assaulted the women.

Father Laudwein was accused in a lawsuit of molesting a 14-year-old Eskimo girl in 1980. He denies the accusations.

Father Whitney has met with many claimants and apologized personally and listened to their stories. "That is when you can really find healing," he says.

In many cases, these one-on-one meetings have resulted in settlements.

The Jesuits, Father Whitney says, continue to work with the Diocese of Fairbanks to promote healing and offer just compensation.

Father Whitney counters charges from a plaintiff's attorney that pedophile priests were moved from other parts of the country to Alaska.

"That is absolutely false. There is no evidence of that," Father Whitney says. "People who went to the missions were people who requested it, in many cases because it was considered the most difficult mission in the world."

The provincial, who himself has served in Alaska, says the Jesuits are not considering bankruptcy as a path. So far the province has paid for settlements with insurance, savings and by asking priestly communities to reduce expenses. None of the money comes from Jesuit schools because they are independent organizations.

Father Whitney says the province will continue to serve the remote Alaskan missions.


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