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A long-simmering story has burst into the open with the filing of a lawsuit alleging that the Jesuit order used Alaska as a “dumping ground” for abusive priests. According to coverage in the Anchorage Daily News, this week’s lawsuit is on behalf of 35 men and eight women, and another one is in the works with another 60 or so victims.
Sex abuse lawsuits aren’t new, but this case exposes one of the ugliest aspects of the scandal:
The new suit contends that pedophile priests unsuited to serve anywhere else were dumped on Alaska and put in remote villages with little or no law enforcement, making it virtually impossible for anyone to report them.
There was a calculated effort at the highest levels of the Jesuit order to “‘dump’ these ‘problem priests’ in a location in which the priests could avoid detection and continued to sexually abuse countless Native children,” the suit says.
Problem priests from seven Jesuit provinces in the United States as well as four other countries ended up in the rural villages, mostly in Western Alaska, [attorney Patrick] Wall said. “They were specifically targeting the Athabascan and the Yup’ik cultures, because they wouldn’t talk,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Whatever the merits of specific allegations (many people and the new head of the order are named, in the kind of blanket indictment typical of such a suit) this case underscores two points:
One, that religious orders are unique in their autonomy from ordinary church (or Roman) oversight. That has benefited the church in many cases, but worked against the church in this case. You can’t easily pin this phenomenon on “the Vatican.” But there does need to be closer oversight of the orders on the sex abuse issue, as they are not under the same level of inspection as the U.S. dioceses (whatever one thinks of the Charter, it is a powerful tool and has been effective in many respects).
Two, the Jesuits are not alone here. Orders everywhere, and many dioceses, used the international structure of the church to transfer “bad apples” as far away from prying eyes as possible. And that usually means inflicting them on the poorest of the poor, who are desperate and those with the least access to avenues of justice and the least motivation to try to seek justice.
The Diocese of Fairbanks is already in bankruptcy, so it looks like the main target for claims will have to be the Society of Jesus. Heartbreaking.