“The Silence,” a Frontline investigation of church abuse in Alaska, airs on PBS on Tuesday April 19 at 9 p.m.

The tiny white plane banks, scouting out the cluster of shack-like homes below spread out on a field of snow, then lands in what is a God-forsaken stretch of Alaska, 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The village of St Michael is clustered around an early 20th century wooden church, population 360 Alaskan native people, nearly all Catholics— until recent years, when nearly all have left the church.

The passenger is a journalist from Frontline, Mark Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes who has been writing about Native Americans for years, but is ill-prepared for what he is about to hear.

In one sense, the story of sexual abuse in the Catholic church has been unfolding for years, as one country after another faces the crimes in its closet and the here-we-go-again pattern emerges. In that sense, Frontline’s visit to snowbound St. Michael is a familiar tale. But proportionally, since about half the village’s citizens still bear the scars of abuse that began in the 1970s, and because its isolation made it so vulnerable, the case is extraordinary; and because the reporter approaches it with sensitivity, it’s a classic work of TV journalism.

It is, on one level, the story of two priests and one supposed “deacon” who committed the crimes, of the 150 victims, many of whose lives have been shattered by the abuse, and of a bishop who had to slowly learn his responsibilities.

For American priests with a missionary vocation Alaska was a challenge and an opportunity. Fr. George Endal was a pioneer priest who arrived at St. Michael in 1968 after several years experience throughout the territory. (Frontline does not mention that Endal, now deceased, was a Jesuit). He brought with him Joseph Lundowski, a church volunteer, as his assistant, whom he placed in charge of the boys’ dormitory. Both led boys to their rooms, played with them sexually, told the children this would make them closer to God. When the children told their parents they were punished for accusing the priest and his “deacon.” One boy’s father was so angry he got drunk and accidentally killed the boy’s brother with his pistol. Meanwhile the priest and “deacon” moved about the villages as a law unto themselves, molesting children almost daily.

This continued until 1975 when Lundowski was caught in the act and spirited away. Endal stayed, above suspicion, but continually molesting boys and girls, nearly 80 percent of the town’s children. Other abusers were named across the state, particularly the popular radio star, Fr. James Poole (who is also a Jesuit), profiled in People magazine and considered a hip DJ, who liked to French-kiss the girls, some of whom accused him of rape.

If the story has a heroine it is Elsie Boudreau, a victim determined to bring justice to the village. She hired a lawyer and confronted the bishop, Donald Kettler, who was installed in 2002. According to Boudreau, Kettler heard her story, but “didn’t get it.” So she and the lawyer assembled dozens of victims to pour out their tales to one another, and filed a class action suit against the church. In the most heart-rending scenes the victims, many of their lives in shambles, now 40 years after the traumatic events, break into tears as they share their pain.

It takes the bishop eight years to accept responsibility. The court orders him to visit every church and every village, meet with all the victims and personally apologize to each. As the film ends Bishop Kettler, fully vested, stands at a liturgy in the ramshackle church, only a few dozen natives present for the ceremony, and tells each one as they approach in line how sorry he feels and marks each forehead with oil in the sign of the cross.

As the evidence piled up, 112 people accused Lundowski, 26 Endal, and 18 Poole. The first two are dead, Poole, in his 80s, is in a priest’s retirement home. Frontline, mercifully, does not tell us where.

Raymond A. Scroth, S.J. 

 

Comments

Marie Rehbein | 4/20/2011 - 6:41pm
All pedophiles manipulate people by first getting people to trust them.  The pedophile priest does not have to make nearly the effort that other pedophiles do.
Molly Roach | 4/20/2011 - 5:06pm
Marie,

I think it is more than that the pedophile priest is perceived as more trustworthy-it is that he trades on that trust, manipulates it to his own ends. 
Marie Rehbein | 4/20/2011 - 2:21pm
"Marie, do you think that the issue, then, is *not* sexual predation, but rather the betrayal of religion-centered trust? If journalists suddenly 'discovered' what Walter's talking about, would you expect society in general to just shrug it off? If so, maybe that's one reason why they don't bother."

David,

I think the reason that pedophile priests outrage the public more than any other type of pedophile is because the priest is perceived to be more trustworthy by virtue of his being a priest, yes. 

I know when I see or meet a priest, I automatically think well of him, even after all the revelations, and I have to remind myself that he could be a molestor.  From that point on, he is "on probation" in my mind such that I am alert to any indications that he might be "one of them" unless I come to know him more personally, which, given my precaution is unlikely.

On the other hand, I am never absolutely trusting of any people in whose care I leave my children.  However, I am pretty sure my children would put up with no nonsense from any adults, even priests, because they have been taught that it is their call.  So, my belief is that another generation from now, priests will no longer encounter people who automatically think well of them.

I learn about abuse cases not involving clergy often enough, and I find that people react with confidence that the perpetrator will be brought to justice, or if not, that they can take matters into their own hands in such a way that justice will be served.  What can they do to priests?  What has been done in the past?  Priests have been protected, not prosecuted.  They continued to get respect, while their victims were ostracized for daring to impugne the priest's reputation.

David, I hope that you are just trying to engage people in thoughtful argument.  The point is never that sexual predators are not so bad.  The point is that there is no organization other than the Catholic Church that has ever abetted this behavior.  If someone from another organization engages in this type of behavior, the organization ostracizes that person and leaves him or her to the criminal justice system.  Will the Catholic Church ever get to the point that we can be sure that it has changed its ways and become like other organizations?
Todd Flowerday | 4/20/2011 - 1:12pm
What David may be pointing at (or not) is the notion of restorative justice. But his critics are right here. The notion that a sex offender would do more damage separated from her or his victims: that's just beyond sanity. The family sex abuser has already demolished the family.

The problem about who should be imprisoned and who not is a wider one for society to consider. Perhaps David has some thoughts on the incarceration of people for possession of illegal drugs. Some, but not all drug criminals are addicts. But the law is blind to the degree an offender is enslaved to the addiction. Dealers, addicts, and unlucky schmoes alike are thrown together.

Would that prisons were set up so that the incarcerated work for a living, and send that money to their families. And victims. But prison is set up for punishment, without regard for a person's responsibilities in society, responsibilities and duties that should not end because a person has committed a crime.
Molly Roach | 4/20/2011 - 9:08am
Sexual abuse itself shatters the family because of the violence, contempt, manipulation and lies that are the heart and soul of the action.  The nurturance of children is gone, replaced by protection of the secret.  The longer it is secret, the harder it is to break the secret.  When someone can blow off the consequences of sexual assault so easily, I conclude that a profound ignorance is at work.  David you don't know what you are talking about.
JIM MCCREA | 4/19/2011 - 11:38pm
David:  you said: " -if abuse is common among family members, would you imprison every abuser?  What happens then to what's left of the families?"

I had to read it twice to convince myself that your comment is not tongue in cheek.  Let me try to understand what you are saying?  If (1) there are lots of abusing family members, then (2) in the interest in preserving the family (3) these abusers should be overlooked/forgiven/not reported?

Are you SERIOUS?
Adelaide Loges | 4/19/2011 - 11:08pm
 
In response to Donald Smith #19.  Your inquiry is kind of like the question "When did you stop beating your wife?"  I had no idea any of this was happening till recent years.  Granted I was pretty naive.  I had to ask a fellow volunteer what f*** meant.  The people I knew well (villagers, fellow volunteers, nuns, brothers, priests) were just getting through day by day with whatever their jobs were - whether teacher, priest, hunter, village medical aid, provider, sewer, baker, maintenance - whatever.  Everybody pitched in.   There were no police. State troopers were stationed in bigger municipalities.  Village residents took care of "stuff" as best they could. Much of the "stuff" seemed alcohol related.  Communication with the outside was by radio assuming the northern lights weren't too active in which case there was none.  The abuse at St. Michael's happened after I left Alaska as near as I can make out.     

 
 
Elizabeth Groven | 4/19/2011 - 10:26pm
The Silence is all too familiar a story.  What really makes me sad is that the bishop is not as emotionallly involved as the people who have been wounded.  To me he should be weeping and shaking with fear at the prospect of having to admit to the terrible things that were done by those whose job it was to bring the Word of God to the people.  It seems to me that this bishop is more like a representative of an oil company than of a spiritual group.   

I am also amazed at the gentleness of the abused people.  Perhaps it is living a life in which the personhood of each one was so beaten down that they have nothing left but the dignity of their survival.  I don't think that personally I would have been able to be in the same room with that man.  While I believe that annointing with oil and being blessed in this special way has many real benefits, I do not accept that the bishop has the right to annoint these people. Perhaps it would have been better had he washed their feet... 

The crimes committed against so many vulnerable members of the Catholic church by members of the Catholic church require more than money or apologies by those in charge of this debacle.  Think of priests, bishops, cardinals, and even the pope really caring for these deeply wounded people.  Think of them cleaning up their messes, changing their sheets, feeding them, listening to them, singing to them, really and truly comforting those they have harmed beyond redemption.  What would Jesus do... Elizabeth Twomey Groven
Vince Killoran | 4/19/2011 - 5:15pm
Wow, David-three responses in an unbroken chain: a "hat trick" of sorts!

But, really, how does bringing sexual abusers to justice="thirst for vengence"?!

"Compassion and common sense" in our CJ system: this sounds good. We incarcerate far too many non-violent offenders. I'm not certain if sexual abusers (and those that cover up their crimes) should be first on our list of those receiving alternative sentences.

Vince Killoran | 4/19/2011 - 3:39pm
Following Walter's advice I did some web surfing and it does seem like Shakeshaft study has come in for some criticism (e.g., http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1331).


When I read about sexual abuse incidents they always involve adults with access to children and young people.  They are clerics and scout leaders, teachers and day care workers.  Of course, the majority are relatives and family friends of the victims.  It's a horrible crime that must be denounced, the needs of the victims must be the priority, and justice must be secured.

As others have pointed out on this website and elsewhere the crimes of the Church to which I belong seem particularly heinous since they involve cover-ups and on-going stone walling by the hierarchy.  Ed is correct: I can take the microphone at the school board meeting, file a police report, etc.  That abuse is awful but my recourse is more available than in an institution in which the hierarchy does not believe it is accountable.

 
WILLIAM ATKINSON | 4/19/2011 - 1:26pm
Deep deep heartfelt hurt, so deep one can not and does not want to ever recognise what has happened, but the hatred felt so deep never will end.   Live amoungst the hundreds of abused kids and now adults in Alaska and Northwest USA, one feels the pain like hardened arteries thats only relief is death.   Families, Communities and Church who have struggled with these issues for past times going back centuries come to agree that living an un-natural existence from late childhood and early adulthood as clerics are required to do is the horror story that never ends.   And church legal courts and local communities courts and legal systems who look other way inorder to pat themselves on their backs and say they are doing a good job confronting their clerical sexual abuse are just kidding themselves, the abuse goes on and will not cease untill clerics are no longer required to lead un-natural lives.   Its high time a Council is called to condem these church laws requiring men and women who aspire to serve Christ live un-natural (and in a way anti-creation [creator]) lifestyles.   If community and church penalties were extremely high for sexual abusers (Note:  clerical abusers, even today are not listed on state and national sex abuser lists and rarely are jailed for their crimes against communities, church, persons) there might begin to be real caution before one even thinks of abusing children.    Gospel of Jesus condems these child abusers and protectors to hugh milstone around their neck and cast into lowest lifestyle of humanity.   Every day we read how church protects these abusers and their leaders and in some cases escapes their own guilt and punishment by establishing abandoment of admission by dumping their own back into society and paying moneys for their guilty acts.  Many a Father and Mother have cried themselves to sleep night after addressing their childrens concerns to local church leaders and after so called appology told to pray over their losses.   Its a sad day in church history when its quilty leaders can gloss over such a heidious horrendous crime.   It parallels the many times in history the persecution of the innocents that even Christ's Parents had to flee from the leaders of His time, a crime against the innocent children that lives on in infamy even today.   The world and Christ shepharded communities will never ever forget the horror, wounds and deep deep hurt  these abusers and their protectors have rought on their families and communities; time will never forgive them.
Todd Flowerday | 4/19/2011 - 1:21pm
That predators abuse the vulnerable is old news. Single teachers, family members, and priests have done grave damage-this is also not novel. The lust for domination and control has always been with us.

Teacher anti-apologists have overlooked the nature of grooming. Predators don't just groom potential victims, but also their own support system: parents of abused children and especially their religious superiors and bishops.

Percentages of predator priests concern me less than the percentage of codependent bishops. How many bishops allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into giving a sick brother a pass and moving him on to abuse anew? Before the Boston media put the fear-o-God into the USCCB in 2002, I'd say it was closer to 100 than zero.

This is why many lay people don't trust the episcopacy. It's not that we harbor hatred or bile or want to topple the hierarchy. If I were dealing with a codependent spouse of an addict, I wouldn't trust that person either.

Bishop Kettler is a fine priest, Jesuit, and administrator, I'm sure. Rigali, George, Dolan, etc., ditto. But they were duped. Shifting the blame is crazy codependent behavior. If it won't stick to the media these days, codependents will try psychologists, teachers, dissenters, theologians, or even their pet hamster if it would get them off the hook.

Fear might be a useful motivating tool for a bishop who still doesn't "get it." But eventually, the episcopacy will need people who can manage this scandal, its survivors, and even its culprits from a Gospel sense of truth, calm, justice, and charity. When they "get it," hopefully we'll all be able to turn the corner.
Marie Rehbein | 4/19/2011 - 1:11pm
Walter,

Do you have any proof that there are a large number of sexual predators teaching in and staffing our public schools?  It has been my observation that students, first of all, tend to be quite critical of and relatively uncooperative with their teachers.  Secondly, I have yet to hear of a situation involving public school where a teacher or staff person of an elementary school was able to sexually molest students of that school for decades.  Finally, most instances of sexual misconduct by teachers or staff in public schools that I have heard of were at the high school level and involved young ladies who were flattered by the attention even though it was inappropriate and illegal.

The simple fact is that the Catholic Church, the priests and the heirarchy, are held in much higher esteem than teachers and public schools by virtue of their affiliation to God.  When they transgress, they defile the relationship between God and man, all the more so when they tell the children this will "make them closer to God".  Shame on these men and on anyone who tries to deflect our revulsion from them onto imaginary situations that could be taking place in other places where there are children.
ed gleason | 4/19/2011 - 11:45am
Walter; I suggested that your teacher concerns be directed to your local/state educational boards. They have open mikes,and have press coverage, that would allow your concerns and data a hearing. [No hearing with the Church though].... . I suggest you do not bring the Shakeshaft data with you , it has been much criticized... has teacher 'looks' and 'jokes' mixed in, inflating  the abuse numbers. Awaiting your post to always get the last word.
Kay Ebeling | 4/18/2011 - 10:18pm
Close to ten percent of priests were pedophiles.  Also in Public Schools there is no 2000 year old hierarchy working hard to cover up their crimes.  There is no comparison of the priests to public school teachers and Catholic leaders need to stop trying to deflect guilt onto others. 
Kay Ebeling | 4/18/2011 - 10:16pm
Re Crimes Against Humanity by Pope: Write The Hague Prosecutor by May 11, 2011. The Hague International Criminal Court will soon decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Joseph Ratzinger (otherwise known as the “Pope”) as a German citizen who is complicit in crimes against humanity, especially in light of the epidemic of pedophilia by Catholic priests.  Click here: http://cityofangels11.blogspot.com for more info and address to send your evidence to The Hague Prosecutor – Persons with evidence of crimes committed by the Catholic Church or The Vatican can now write directly to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in charge of this case, Dr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, according to the two German Lawyers who are applying to prosecute Ratzinger, Christian Sailer and Gert Hetzel. Source: City of Angels Blog by Kay Ebeling.
Vince Killoran | 4/18/2011 - 10:03pm
I agree w/Ed & Jim.

I do have a question: what percentage of public school teachers and Catholic clerics have engaged (and covered up) sexual abuse?
ed gleason | 4/18/2011 - 7:48pm
Jim McCrea is correct.. apples and oranges and furthermore ...As I told Walter many times, there are almost 100 times more public school teachers than priests. and more than three times the Catholic school teachers than priests. So where are the headline numbers??  
Charle Reisz | 4/18/2011 - 6:43pm
Walter when I was educated in catholic schools I was told that ''others are doing it'' was not a legitimate reason for me sinning.  I think your excuse is pretty lame.  And I agree with what Ed says... take the data you have on abuse in public schools to the school board... Or maybe you do not have data... Who is covering for the school boards?  We know it is the Vicars, the bishops, the arch bishops and their superiors that are covering for the abusing priests.
JIM MCCREA | 4/18/2011 - 5:24pm
Walter:

Public school teachers do not make, nor have made for them, any claim to a higher degree of spirituality based on their being teachers.  The public has not been conditioned, as Catholics have about priests, to assume that teachers are of a higher moral character than the general public exhibits.  While one should expect ethical behavior from both groups of people, Catholics have, again, been conditioned that priests are servants of the servants of God, ontologically changed, etc.  In other words, they are and should be of a higher ethical bent by virtue of their ordination.
From those to whom much has been given, much more is expected. 
ed gleason | 4/18/2011 - 5:08pm
Walter; this is about the twentieth post of yours saying' it's really the teachers who molest' .. no one on the Catholic blog sites are deterred by your mis-direction effort. Go to a local school board meeting with your so called data. Have you no idea about the proper venue?  Get your teacher problem on Frontline..
ed gleason | 4/18/2011 - 1:24pm
When a house pet keeps leaving it's mess on the floor one has to keep rubbing it's nose in it or the training is useless. The triumphalism mess both clerical and lay  needs the nose rubbing for at least another 50 years.
I ask  that some posters, the amateur 'defenders of the faith', quit posting the ?e?x?c?u?s?e? ?' it's greedy lawyers and school teachers?'. It's not convincing?? anyone. Holy w?eek is the time to see/experience? ?? the 'Church of the Margins'??
David Pasinski | 4/18/2011 - 1:07pm
Are there any comments left to be made? Airing this in Holy Week is a meditation appropriate for all who somehow yet identify with this broken and betraying Church and who believe in the suffering, dying, and resurrrecting Christ to yet bring metanoia, reconciliatiion, and new life.
Arnold Jessup | 4/20/2011 - 7:40am
There is something seriously, seriously, seriously wrong with you, David.