Alaska abuse suits fuel suspicions on church

Critics say state was 'dumping ground'

Associated Press/October 22, 2005
By Rachel D'Oro

Anchorage -- A recent string of lawsuits accusing Roman Catholic priests of molesting children has reinforced suspicions among some critics of the church that remote Alaska was a dumping ground for problem clergy.

'I absolutely believe that church officials intentionally sent abusive priests to minor communities, transient communities, where kids may be less apt to tell and have less faith in the justice system," said David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Four priests who served in Alaska have been sued over the past two weeks, with the most recent case brought Thursday against the Rev. James Laudwein, a Jesuit accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl in 1980 in the Eskimo village of St. Marys, about 500 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

All together, 12 priests who served in Alaska have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct. Most of the alleged abuse occurred in remote villages, and most of the alleged victims were Alaska Natives.

Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine priest and consultant for a Costa Mesa, Calif., law firm that has worked on more than 300 church abuse allegations nationwide, said rural Alaska was a prime place to send abusive priests.

Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler disputed the notion of Alaska as a dumping ground.

''My reaction when I hear that is that I feel the opposite is really true," said Kettler, who has been bishop for three years. Those who work or volunteer in the diocese ''come with a commitment wanting to serve the peoples of Alaska. They were not forced to come here."

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