Jesuit: Alaska No Hiding Place for Problem Priests

By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News
January 15, 2009

[PDF: Catholic abuse lawsuit]

Alaskan Rena Abouchuk of Kelso, Wash., reads a statement Jan. 14, 2008, in front of Seattle University about how she was abused by priests at St. Michael when she was 7 years old. She is one of 43 people in a lawsuit accusing church officials of ignoring the problem.

The head of the Jesuit order for the Northwest on Thursday denied the allegation in a new lawsuit that Alaska became a magnet or hiding place for problem priests.

The lawsuit filed this week in Bethel on behalf of 43 Alaska Natives accuses Catholic priests and volunteers of sexual abuse years or even decades ago, when they were children.

It's the latest in a string of lawsuits over the years, most of them targeting priests who came to Alaska from the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province. The province includes Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.

In a written statement Thursday morning, Father Patrick Lee, the head or provincial for the Oregon province, didn't address the new allegations of sexual abuse or other specifics from the lawsuit.

But he disputed the broad allegation contained within the lawsuit that Alaska became a dumping ground for pedophile priests.

"I have never seen any evidence of that," Lee said in the statement. "Jesuits requested to be assigned to this mission. It was seen as a very challenging place to go, but one which attracted Jesuits who had a deep desire to spread the gospel."

The lawsuit claims the Jesuit order intentionally sent the priests to isolated Alaska villages with little or nothing in the way of law enforcement. People had no place to report allegations of child sexual abuse, the suit says. There also weren't health care providers trained to detect signs of abuse, it says.

The Jesuits have settled a number of earlier Alaska claims, paying out $59 million since 2004.



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