I recently downloaded a list of Jesuits—priests, brothers and deacons—who have been accused of sexual abuse of children and, presumably, adult parishioners as well. The list is more than 130 names and gives the year of ordination, current status (accused, sued, settled or convicted) and the diocese in which each served at the time of the alleged or proven abuse. And this is only a partial list, for some Jesuit provinces in the U.S. are not yet included. The list does not include information as to whether the victims/accusers were Native American students in mission schools, although the location of some of the dioceses would indicate that it was likely not the case.
Although it is always good to see justice done, I do feel some pain at these revelations. It can be said that I was born a Catholic, for I was baptized within an hour of my birth by a man in our reservation community who was a Catechist (a layman who conducted Catholic prayer meetings—usually in Lakota—in the absence of a priest). My mother told me that I was convulsing at birth and it appeared that I would not live, so the Catechist was called to baptize me. The man happened to be my uncle, John Fast Wolf who, like the Lakota holy man Black Elk, was both a traditional holy man and a Catholic Catechist. I was raised Catholic by my mother, who was a very devout member of the Church. My father, who died when I was not yet 2 years old, was not a Catholic but respected my mother’s wish for all 13 of their children to be baptized, and the 11 of us who survived beyond childhood to be raised as Catholics.
But except for funeral services, I have not been in a church for many years. I am having my own personal crisis of faith, due in part to the exposition of the phenomenal numbers of predatory priests and the damage they have done and are doing to children and their families. And the damage they have done and are doing to people who want to believe, who want to have faith, and whose spiritual life is shaken by these rogue pastors.
Thus it hurts to see so many priests as vile perpetrators.
But when a man, in the name of Jesus Christ, instructs an innocent mind on the infinite love of God, or on the other hand instills fear of the almighty Lord, and uses that teaching and trust and fear to impose himself on a child for his sexual gratification, I am horrified and sickened. I can’t imagine Dante himself devising a place horrible enough in the depths of the Inferno to cast such persons unrepentant.
For me, there is no comfort to be found in the fact that the exposed pedophiles in the Catholic clergy represent only a portion of trusted adults preying on children in their care—children of all races and religions. The local newspaper here in Omaha reports almost weekly of scout leaders, coaches, teachers, and clergy of various faiths being accused, brought to trial, and in most cases convicted of sexual exploitation of children in their care. The Omaha School District, and presumably many other districts, is wrestling with requirements on reporting and handling accusations or suspicions of such abuse.
There is no comfort because I remain a Catholic, albeit a weak and wayward member of the Church. As a Catholic, I should take ownership of the Church, as one might take ownership of any corporation in which he is invested. And, as an owner, as a faithful investor, I should encourage all efforts to rid our Church of scoundrels and criminals who prey on the congregations, especially on the children.
And as a Catholic member of the Lakota Oyate and the Native community as a whole, I especially decry and condemn the sexual, physical and psychological abuse of Native children who have been placed in the care of people entrusted with their education—particularly the clergy and government teachers and administrators of Indian schools.
Finally, as a Catholic citizen of the United States, bound by the laws of the Nation and committed to abide by them and uphold them, I should urge the leaders of my Church to abide by the laws of our Nation, and to see to the perfection of those laws in the Courts—to bind the accused, suspected or admitted offenders over to civil authority.
This I believe and, as a Catholic, I will insist on. But first I must put myself right with the Church, and begin again, after so many years, to practice the faith. This, I intend to do.
Having expressed outrage against the crimes of so many Catholic clergy, especially against Native American children entrusted to them in their schools, I will in later columns, talk about why I criticize and dispute some accusations against the Jesuit-run Indian boarding school I attended for all my school years from 1940 to 1952. In so doing, I wish to provide perspective that will help younger generations deal with the reality of boarding school experience, at least my first hand experiences in such an institution, and maybe help them reconcile any feelings of intergenerational trauma.
Charles “Chuck” Trimble was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1969, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972 to 1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Nebraska. His website is IktomisWeb.com.