More priests accused of abuse

Daily News Miner/December 29, 2004
By Mary Beth Smetzer

The number of priests accused of sexual abuse decades ago in Western Alaska doubled Tuesday when a man filed a civil lawsuit in Bethel Superior Court.

The suit claims the two priests sexually abused the anonymous accuser at two different times while serving as missionaries in villages along Alaska's west coast and the lower Yukon River during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Rev. Segundo Llorente and Francis Nawn, both deceased, are named as the assailants of plaintiff Jack Doe 1. The suit claims the man, who is a member of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Sheldon's Point, now known as Nunam Iqua, was sexually abused as a child along with others.

The suit names the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska; the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province; and the Society of Jesus, Alaska, as defendants.

Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa is representing Jack Doe 1 and dozens of others in suits filed on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse by two other Jesuit priests--the late Rev. Jules Convert and the Rev. Jim Poole, 81, founder of Catholic radio station KNOM in Nome.

A fifth man, Joseph C. Lundowski, has had almost three dozen complaints filed against him. His accusers said he is a former Trappist monk who worked for the diocese, although officials have said he was not connected to the Fairbanks diocese, which encompasses much of Western Alaska. It is not known if Lundowski is still alive.

According to the complaint filed Tuesday, Jack Doe 1 was sexually abused by the priests during two different time periods.

Llorente was pastor at St. Peter's in Sheldon's Point in 1956-57, when Jack Doe 1 was 6 or 7 years of age, according to the complaint. On at least four separate occasions Llorente invited the boy to his living quarters after catechism, where Llorente molested him as well as other boys present, according to the complaint. Afterward, Llorente gave the victim hard candy, which was a special treat for the boy.

When Jack Doe 1 was 13 or 14 years old, the suit said Nawn, who was assigned to Holy Cross, traveled to Sheldon's Point for several weeks in the summer of 1963 or 1964 to serve as village priest. On more than five occasions Jack Doe 1 said Nawn invited him to spend the night with him at the rectory where he was "sexually abused, harassed, humiliated and assaulted," according to the complaint. The abuse escalated during the encounters.

During the 40 years Llorente served in Alaska, he gained prominence through his writings and as a one-term member of the Alaska House of Representatives. Elected in 1960, he served from 1961-62. His best-known book is "Memoirs of a Yukon Priest."

Llorente also served in Akulurak, Bethel, Alakanuk, Kwiguk, Emmonak and New Knockhock. Nawn served at Holy Cross, Scammon Bay and Emmonak.

The victim, who, according to the lawsuit, has suffered severe emotional damage and a loss of faith in the Catholic Church from the sexual harassment and abuse, is asking for a minimum of $100,000 in damages on each claim.

The complaint also argued the defendants had to know of the priests' felonious conduct toward minors and impeded justice by harboring and concealing them, transferring them from position to position in Alaska, concealing the true facts of their criminal activity "and harboring them within the protective cloak of the church."

In addition, the complaint claims the diocesan and Jesuit defendants were aware of the potential liability of clergy and discarded, burned and shredded documentary evidence "relating to the misconduct of their priests and religious officials prior to January of 2003 and thereafter."

Bishop Donald Kettler, head of the Fairbanks diocese, wasn't surprised by the latest lawsuit.

"I was aware that this was being considered," he said in a phone interview from South Dakota, where he is visiting family and will soon be going on retreat.

"I deeply regret this newest allegation and as a diocese we will certainly work to find out the truth of the matter and try to cooperate with everyone involved," Kettler said.

Ronnie Rosenberg, diocesan human resources director, said she hadn't read the complaint yet, but assumed it would present the same problems of similar allegations more than 40 years old.

"Trying to find witnesses, trying to reconstruct events or finding documents from 40 years ago is problematic," she said. "No place retains very much from that vintage."

Rosenberg said the complaint would be carefully reviewed, adding, "As always, the bishop is desirous of meeting with the victim if he so desires or through his attorney."

As the number of civil cases of sexual abuse mount, Rosenberg pointed out the financial concerns of the diocese.

"The resources of the diocese are limited. As we very much want to bring healing and assist victims, we also want to be fair. Anyone who feels they may have been injured, please come forward now," she asked. "It would be very helpful to have an idea of all of these allegations stemming from years ago."

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