After A $50 Million Settlement, Alaskans Describe Alleged Abuse
Wednesday, November 21st 2007, 7:54 am
News On 6
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Holding photos of themselves as children, Elsie Boudreau and James Niksik described what they said were years of sexual abuse by Jesuit priests that led to the announcement of a $50 million settlement.
They said Tuesday that their abusers were venerated in the isolated western Alaska villages where they grew up.
``This is a crime that our parents and our grandparents couldn't even conceive of,'' said Boudreau, who said her photo was taken for her first communion in the village of St. Mary's.
The press conference was held two days after the announcement of the $50 million settlement with the Pacific Northwest branch of the Society of Jesus, which includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The Jesuit organization's settlement covers 110 Alaska Natives who say they were abused by more than a dozen priests.
``This is how big I was,'' said Niksik, from the village of St. Michael, pointing to a photo of himself and another child at what he said was age 7 or 8. ``We put our trust in the people who taught us religion.''
When he told his father about the abuse, Niksik said, his father didn't believe him.
The settlement does not include the Fairbanks Roman Catholic Diocese, which owned and managed churches in rural Alaska.
The settlement doesn't require the Jesuits to acknowledge wrongdoing, but lawyers for the plaintiffs said the size of the settlement spoke for itself.
John Manly, who has handled several abuse cases, said the plaintiffs believe that church officials knowingly sent ``the worst of the worst'' to isolated villages and that the Jesuits continue to care for abusers. He said he believes abusers are still in the ministry.
The Very Rev. John Whitney, provincial superior of the society, has denied that Alaska was a dumping grounds for pedophile priests.
Whitney said in an interview Tuesday that he has often acknowledged the abuse in travels to Alaska. ``There were Jesuits who abused native people,'' he said. ``I'm deeply apologetic to those who were abused.''
He said three abusers in the case remain alive, in their 70s and 80s, and are living under ``safety plans'' that limit their activities and contacts. To expel them from the Jesuits would end those plans, and ``we take responsibility for them,'' he said.
He said priests alleged to be current abusers in the ministry should be reported to the police and to the organization, which would remove offenders.