Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Alaska

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PBS 'Frontline' program reports on Catholic sex abuse scandal in Alaska
by dermotcole
Dermot Cole
Feb 14, 2011 | 945 views | 3 | | 4 | | | permalink The PBS documentary series "Frontline" has been investigating the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal in Alaska. The program had been expected to be broadcast this week, but has been delayed until March because of events in Egypt.

The 20-minute episode will focus on the village of St. Michael and the sex abuse by ministers who included missionary Joseph Lundowski, according to the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, which cooperated with the journalists from 'Frontline."

Dozens of people said they were molested as young children by Lundowski, who died in 1996 in Chicago. On the "list of perpetrators" posted on the website of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan, there were 112 reports of abuse against Lundowski, far more than anyone else.

Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article on Lundowski, published in 2005, written by reporter William Lobdell:

As victims of clergy sexual abuse across the country have learned, reconstructing events that occurred decades ago in secret is a daunting task. For the Eskimos, the job was complicated by the church's initial insistence that there was no record that Lundowski had ever volunteered for the church.

The villagers and their attorneys dug through church archives, family photo albums and old letters looking for evidence.

(Attorney Ken) Roosa came across a grainy copy of a 1975 church newsletter that listed participants in a training program for deacons in the Diocese of Fairbanks. It included a photo of a bald man with horn-rimmed glasses. The caption read: "Joe Lundowski, 59 yrs., Stebbins."

This was proof that the church had trained Lundowski as a deacon and knew he was serving in Stebbins.

In the same file, Roosa found a 1965 letter by a senior Jesuit stating that the church "should have gotten rid of [Lundowski] a long time ago."

The letter was written three years before Lundowski arrived in St. Michael by Father Jules M. Convert, then in charge of the Jesuits in Alaska, to Father Jack Gurr, chancellor to the bishop of Fairbanks. Convert began by asking for a shipment of food for his men and more nails to complete the building of a village church, but most of the letter was devoted to his concern about Lundowski.

Convert expressed dismay that the bishop in Fairbanks, Theodore Boileau, had moved Lundowski from one village to another after receiving "complaints" about his conduct.

Convert described Lundowski as a church volunteer and wrote that he had forbidden him to use the title "brother" because "it greatly confused the folks."

In his reply, Gurr questioned "why the Mission Superior (i.e., yourself) cannot give 'guidance' to [Jesuit priests and volunteers] on such matters. What would you do if it involved a woman? ... You should try to bring the scandal to end...."

Convert replied that he didn't have the authority to remove Lundowski, and that only the bishop could do so.

"He's a lay volunteer, sent by the bishop to Hooper Bay against what he knew to be our thinking of the fellow. I happen to know he's a possible cause of trouble, so I refer him and the case to the proper [church] authorities, for whatever action they see fit to take...."

There is no evidence that church authorities investigated the allegations. Convert himself now stands accused of molesting 20 Eskimo children.

An additional piece of evidence against Lundowski came from one of his alleged victims. The man, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is serving a prison sentence for rape in Alaska, gave the plaintiffs' lawyers a letter Lundowski had written to him in 1993.

The inmate, who asked to remain anonymous, told attorneys that he wrote Lundowski to describe the emotional turmoil he had suffered as a result of the missionary's molestations.

In a handwritten letter with a postmark from Chicago, Lundowski replied: "Your letter came to me as a shock and sadden me as to your condition. It goes without saying that if I am in anyway to blame for your illness, I apologize....

"I pray to God who relieves all illness to comfort you and to restore you to perfect health. Since I left Alaska and came [to Chicago] to work, I have accepted the Lord in a real and personal manner .... I too have suffered. Two years ago I had a heart attack with a stroke and still have limited use of my legs and arms. My prayer for myself every day is for Him to come and take me. I don't write this for sympathy, but to let you see the Lord punishes us in his own ways."

Lundowski spent the final decade of his life as the night switchboard operator at a Christian rescue mission on Chicago's South Side. He died in 1996.





Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - entry PBS Frontline program reports on Catholic sex abuse scandal in Alaska

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