Last week the Jesuits of Oregon Province in Alaska filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Why were they forced into this action? Because more than 60 lawsuits alleging sex abuse by Jesuit priests have been filed against them and in all, there are 200 known claimants in the five western states covered by the Province. Most of the victims are from Alaska. Where is the outrage?
It is contended by many of the abused Natives of Alaska that long before it became a state it was the dumping ground for pedophile priests. For a couple of generations the stigma attached to the abuse kept the victims silent, but when the roof fell in on the Anglican Church in Canada and the horrifying details of sexual abuse against the Natives of that country came to light, the buried secrets of abuse by several churches, the Mormons, Methodists, Episcopalians and others went unpublished, but not undocumented.
Ken Roosa, the attorney representing the abuse victims in Alaska, said he expects more claimants to come forward. "By the time this is over, it wouldn't surprise me to see the number double. And these all will of course involve childhood molestation by Jesuit priests and brothers, or people who were being supervised by Jesuit priests and brothers."
The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, isn't talking publicly about filing for bankruptcy. In a press release the Society said it believes Chapter 11 reorganization is the only way all of the claimants can receive a fair settlement. The Jesuits say they have less than $5 million in assets and their liabilities come to nearly $62 million. Roosa said those figures will be a major point of contention during the bankruptcy proceedings. He said, "There will be debates about whether the Jesuits own the universities and high schools, whether those universities and high schools are assets that can be held accountable or used to pay the claims. All of that will be argued before the bankruptcy judge."
Elsie Boudreau, Yu'pik Eskimo and Alaska Native, a sexual abuse victim who sued a priest and the church in a separate lawsuit and won, said of the bankruptcy filing by the Jesuits:
The day has come for Native people to free ourselves from the bondage of shame and secrecy that kept us powerless within the Catholic Church because we are no longer a people sitting idly on the sidelines while Jesuits continue their deceptive maneuverings to shield heinous crimes of sexual abuse of our innocent children. We are speaking loudly and clearly.
"The era of gross and deliberate human rights violations by those neglectful and careless men hiding behind the cloak of Christ has come to an end. We, as a Native people, will no longer tolerate the scarring of our souls by those entrusted to protect and nurture our spirituality.
Clearly upset by all she has been through over the years, Boudreau added, "The Oregon Province filing for bankruptcy is a clear admission on their part that our Native people have been the recipients of an evil so great, so inconceivable, so out of this world, that it would bring Jesus Christ to tears."
Boudreau has made it her life's mission to encourage other Native victims of abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church to put away any guilt or fear they may feel and to speak out. She said, "Our ancestors' wisdom tells us we do not treat our people that way -- we take care of our people. Why then would we tolerate the abuse of those entrusted to save our souls? It is time for Native people to hold on to our teachings and secure a place of honor and respect for our children for generations to come."
In the warm climes of San Diego, CA, the Diocese of San Diego is about to make an appearance in bankruptcy court in order to minimize the damages done to it by clergy accused of sexually abusing Native children there.
And so the beat goes on. Long hidden crimes by the Catholic Church and its Jesuit priests, brothers and their minions are now revealed to the light. The deep, dark secrets now out in the open are apparently still too gross and vile to be stomached by the rest of America. When the victims of these heinous crimes were white, the horror was on every front page of every major newspaper and on the prime time news of every television station in America.
When it comes to Native Americans and Alaskans, where is the outrage?
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Lakota Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2009 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.