Alaska Priest

By Damon Winter
Los Angeles Times
November 19, 2005,0,1209836.flash

[See the companion article Missionary's Dark Legacy, by William Lobdell, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2005.]

For some locals, the Catholic church bell tower shown looming over the Alaskan village of St. Michael brings back painful memories of alleged sexual abuse by Joseph Lundowski, a volunteer missionary who served in the parish from 1968 to 1975.

In the winter, the remote Alaskan villages of St. Michael and Stebbins are accessible only by small plane or, when the ice melts on Norton Sound, by boat. A 12-mile-long gravel road also links the villages.

Elsie Cheemuk comforts her husband, Thomas, whose alleged sexual abuse by Joseph Lundowski, a volunteer missionary who served in the Alaskan village of St. Michael in the late 1960s and early '70s, drove him to try to kill himself three times. Thomas said his brother John also was molested by Lundowski and committed suicide in 1999 because of the abuse.

Mary Cheemuk returns from the Catholic church in the remote Alaskan village of Kotlik to her daughter's home during a blizzard in February. Her sons Thomas and John said in a lawsuit against the church that they were sexually abused by John Lundowski, a volunteer missionary who served at the church from 1968 to 1975.

Peter "Packy" Kobuk longs to go to the Catholic church in the Alaskan village of St. Michael but can't overcome a sense of betrayal by the church—first when as a child he says he was allegedly abused by John Lundowski, and now as an adult seeking redress from the church.

Teddy Atchak walks by the old church in the western Alaskan village of St. Michael, where he claims he was molested as a child.

A fox fur hangs in the foreground as a chained dog paces to keep warm during a four-day blizzard.

Like other alleged abuse victims in the Alaskan village of St. Michael, John Lockwood, a 48-year-old father of nine, turned to alcohol and drugs. He made "home brew" alcohol, a mixture of yeast, sugar and fruit juice. "It's not good, but it does the job," he said.

Isaiah Snowball, 14, waits in his father's truck for his parents to come out of Sunday services at the Assembly of God church in the Alaskan village of St. Michael. Isaiah's father, Hillary Snowball, said his family left the Catholic Church when he was 19 years old.

Alberta Steve wipes away tears after telling lawyer Ken Roosa that she had been sexually abused as a child by a member of the local Catholic clergy.

Priscilla Otten holds her 8-month-old son, Steve, in the tiny two-room house that she shares with her boyfriend, Elias Pete Jr., who claims in his lawsuit he was sexually abused for years by Joseph Lundowski. The alleged victims, now in their 40s and 50s, remained silent until they learned about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal last year.

Elias Pete Jr., 43, changes his son Steve's diaper. Pete claims in his lawsuit against the church that when he was 9, volunteer missionary Joseph Lundowski performed oral sex on him for the first of many times, giving him 25 cents from the Stebbins church's Easter Seal donation can.

Nicolas Pete, 41, claims in his lawsuit that as a child he, like his nephew Elias Pete Jr., was sexually abused by Joseph Lundowski. The volunteer missionary threatened to take away stars that tracked his progress toward confirmation unless he consented to sex, Elias Pete said.

Father Stanislaw Jaszek looks out from the bell tower of the old Catholic church in the Alaskan village of St. Michael. Jaszek is trying to establish a relationship with villagers who became distrustful of church representatives because of the alleged molestations.

A Stebbins resident drags a container past the remote Alaskan village's water tank to get water. The homes in the village lack running water.

Winefred Otten, one of the most respected elders in Stebbins, peers out her kitchen window. According to the lawsuit filed against the clergy, her son-in-law, Elias Pete Jr., is among the alleged molestation victims of Joseph Lundowski.

A couple walks toward the sunset on their way to a Potlach, a winter festival popular among Native Americans, in the village of Kotlik in February.

Village elders, from left, Alice Pete, Winefred Otten and Daisy Pete participate in the nightly bingo game at the Stebbins town hall. Bingo is one of the few opportunities for residents to socialize.

Darlene Chiskok, 24, dresses her 2-year-old son, Clyde Acoman II this past winter. She cared for two of her younger siblings when her father, Peter "Packy" Kobuk, served time in a Nome prison.

Children in the remote Alaskan village of St. Michael spend the evening playing cards and listening to rap music at Liberty Cafe.

Thomas Cheemuk says he is tormented by memories of sexual abuse he suffered as a child and has filed a lawsuit against the church alleging that Joseph Lundowski, a volunteer missionary, molested him. Cheemuk has attempted suicide three times.

Thomas Cheemuk visits his older brother John's grave in a cemetery overlooking the Alaskan village of St. Michael in February. Cheemuk said he believes his brother killed himself in 1999 because as a child he had been molested.


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