Writer and producer Tom Curran and reporter Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock) will examine the Catholic Church’s abuse of Alaska Natives and American Indians by priests and church workers in Alaska in The Silence, a co-presentation with Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT), airing as part of PBS FRONTLINE’s magazine show on Tuesday, April 19 at 9 p.m. EST.
The isolation of the Alaska Native villages and supreme authority of the Catholic church in the late 1960s and early 1970s allowed sexual abuse to slip through the cracks unreported. “It was a perfect storm for molestation,” said Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, who represented the Alaska victims against the church.
Candid interviews with the survivors reveal the long-term emotional damage that lead to hundreds of abuse claims from one of the country’s hardest hit regions, according to a PBS press release.
“I was just a kid,” Ben Andrews told FRONTLINE of the ongoing abuse inflicted by Father George Endal and Joseph Lundowski, a layman who was training to be a deacon. “Father Endal and Joseph Lundowski, they couldn’t stop molesting me once they started. It was almost an everyday thing. Father Endal kept telling me that it would make me closer to God.”
Resentment and torment continue for the victims. “I’m still having nightmares of Joseph Lundowski molesting, having sex with me,” said Peter “Packy” Kobuk, according to the PBS press release. “I get up sweating, angry, feel like I could hurt somebody, but I never meaned [sic] to get angry at my children, but the anger went on my children also.”
On March 25, the bankrupt order of priests called the Northwest Jesuits, formerly known as the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, paid out $166.1 million to American Indian and Alaska Native victims in the third largest settlement in the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse saga and the largest ever by a single Catholic religious order, reported the Daily Mail. Insurance companies will pay $118 million of the settlement, with the Jesuits paying $48.1 million, reported The Seattle Times. The Jesuit order ran schools in villages and on reservations throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
As part of the recent church settlement with the victims, the bishop of Fairbanks, Donald Kettler, was asked to return to the villages where the abuse occurred and apologize to the victims in person, stated the PBS press release. During Bishop Keller’s December 2010 visit, FRONTLINE recorded the bishop’s face-to-face apoligies with abuse survivors in the village of St. Michael–frequently referred to as “ground zero” for the abuse, according to the PBS press release.
“In St. Michael, we’ve had a great deal of our sexual abuse happen there,” Bishop Kettler told FRONTLINE. “So I am certainly conscious of the importance of this visit. I’m anxious insofar as I’m wondering how I will be received. What will happen? What I can do?”
Prior to the bishop’s arrival, Elsie Boudreau, one of the first Alaska survivors to file suit against the church, told FRONTLINE: “I’ve seen how important it would be to have someone from the church say they’re sorry. The bishop has that power to reach that little kid and say, ‘It wasn’t your fault; you did nothing wrong.’ And I don’t know if he’s able to do that.”