A group of 43 Alaska Natives who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests and church volunteers have sued the Jesuit order, alleging that remote Alaska villages became a worldwide dumping ground for clergy with histories of abuse.
The 78-page lawsuit filed this week in Bethel Superior Court is the latest in an Alaska clergy scandal that involves more than 300 victims and about 40 accused perpetrators, according to Patrick Wall, a former monk and priest who works for a California law firm as an advocate for sex abuse victims.
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, said Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, who is one of the lawyers representing the group.
People keep coming forward, he said.
Some of the events alleged in the stream of lawsuits stretch back into the 1940s, and others happened as recently as 2001. But much of the abuse took place in the 1960s and 1970s, Wall said.
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, 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.
The suit asserts that the international leader of the Society of Jesus based in Rome shares the blame for the abuse because of negligent supervision of clergy.
The suit names the current leader, Father General Adolfo Nicolas, and his predecessors as defendants, along with the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province; an affiliate called the Pioneer Educational Society; the fomer head of the province who is now president of a Jesuit university; and also two men that it called abusers, Father Henry Hargreaves and Jesuit volunteer Anton Smario.
Other accused priests and volunteers died before the complaints were made, so aren't named defendants.
Hargreaves resides in a Jesuit home connected with Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. The suit said he worked as a priest in Alaska from 1949 into the early 2000s and was stationed in a number of Western Alaska villages as well as Bethel and Fairbanks. The suit describes him as "serial child molester" and said his troubles were written up a special file called a "hell file." A message left on Wednesday evening for Hargreaves at the Jesuit home in Spokane was not returned.
The new suit accuses the Rev. Stephen Sundborg of having access to Hargreaves' "hell file" yet allowing him to remain in ministry during the time Sundborg was head of the Jesuit order in the Northwest.
Sundborg is now president of Seattle University, a Jesuit institution. He would not address specific questions, a university spokesman said Wednesday. But he didn't mince words in a written statement posted on the university's Web site.
"The allegations brought against me are false. I firmly deny them. I want the victims and entire community to know that," Sundborg said in his statement.
He served as provincial, or leader of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, from 1990 to 1996, the suit says. The province includes Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.
The lawsuit contends Hargreaves abused two boys. The first was in 1957 in Nulato, a Yukon River village west of Galena. He is accused of fondling a boy age 6 or 7 multiple times after taking him to a pond, supposedly to teach him to swim.
The suit also accuses Hargreaves of raping a young boy in the village of Numan Iqua, formerly known as Sheldon Point, in 1992 or so. The boy was only around age 5 or 6. After the assault, the boy bled and had trouble going to the bathroom for days, the lawsuit says. The assault occurred in Hargreaves' home, which was provided by the Jesuits, the suit says.
"As a direct result of Father Sundborg's decision, Father Hargreaves was able to continue molesting children, including but not limited to James Doe 94, who was raped by Father Hargreaves in 1992, when James Doe was approximately 6 years old," the suit says
"The complaint filed by the plaintiffs' lawyers represents an unprincipled and irresponsible attack on my reputation," Sundborg responded in his statement. "Let me be clear -- my commitment to justice and reconciliation for all victims remains steadfast. The sexual abuse by Catholic priests is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of our church."
Since 2004, the Jesuit order for the Northwest has paid $59 million to settle Alaska sexual abuse claims, Roosa said. Many of those concerned abuse by the late Catholic church volunteer Joseph Lundowski, accused of molesting dozens of children. He also is accused in the new suit.
The Very Rev. Patrick Lee, head of the Oregon-based province, didn't respond to requests for comment from the Daily News. He told The Seattle Times that he couldn't comment directly on the suit.
"The Oregon province takes these allegations very seriously and will investigate them to the fullest extent," Lee told The Times. "The province is committed to a just and healing course in all cases of misconduct and child abuse."
In earlier lawsuits, Roosa also named the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese as a defendant along with the Jesuits. But the diocese filed for bankruptcy last year because of all the sexual abuse claims and is now protected from further lawsuits. A total of 292 people filed allegations of sexual abuse in bankruptcy court by a December deadline. Another 23 victims earlier settled claims against the Fairbanks diocese, Roosa said.
The Anchorage Catholic Diocese also has settled claims, but a much smaller number.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER