April 19, 2011
MARK TRAHANT, Correspondent: [voice-over] This is a story that's been shrouded in secrecy for years. It takes place in an isolated part of Alaska, 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The village is called St. Michael and it's home to some 360 Alaska native people.
As a journalist and as a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, I've been writing about native Americans my whole career. But little could prepare me for what happened in St. Michael.
Many here still remember how innocently it all began.
ALBERTA STEVE: Growing up, there's so many good memories. The thing I enjoyed the most was the community gathering, the community being together as one and having fun. It was good to see people happy.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: My grandpa taught me how to hunt and fish. I used to love to go out with him, go fishing, hunting and trapping.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: My earliest memories was people were very devoted Catholics. We went to catechism right out after school. We'd run straight across to the church where— right next to the Catholic church from the old school.
MARK TRAHANT: The church in St. Michael was built in the early decades of the 20th century as missionaries helped spread Catholicism across native Alaska.
CHARLIE FITKA, Elder: Before the white man came, the Eskimos believed that everything had a spirit. We respected everybody, and we knew that there was somebody up there taking care of us. Now almost everybody here is Catholic.
MARK TRAHANT: To run the parish in St. Michael, the church sent Father George Endal. One of the state's pioneer priests, Endal moved from church to church throughout Alaska before landing in St. Michael in 1968. He brought with him a Church volunteer named Joseph Lundowski, who he'd given a job to years earlier.
KENNETH ROOSA, Anchorage Attorney: We don't know a lot about him. He's somewhat of a mystery. Endal brought him in as a sort of a novice master at the school. He was, we were told, placed in charge of the boys dormitory.
MARK TRAHANT: In St. Michael, Lundowski would train to become a deacon, but the people here looked up to him as a priest all along.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: He had a really nice singing voice. His voice was very nice at saying prayers. At the time, I did work as altar boy, too, with him. I always wanted to be a deacon as a kid.
ALBERTA STEVE: In the beginning, yeah, I wanted to go to catechism. It was fun until weird things started happening.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: After mass, the parents would start leaving, going home, and Lundowski would pull out checkers or chess or card games.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: He'd offer us money or drinks or candy or something we want, you know? They'd do anything to get us at the church.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: I was age 12 when he asked me to go in the bedroom with him. I was asking him what for, and he said I would find out. So I follow him in. I was kind of afraid, though, because when he shut the door and locked it, he pulled my pants down and takes his false teeth out, put them on the dresser.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I was just a kid. Didn't know nothing. Father Endal and Joseph Lundowski, they couldn't stop molesting me when they started. It was almost an everyday thing. Father Endal was telling me that it would make me closer to God.
KENNETH ROOSA: Father Endal and Joe Lundowski moved through a series of Alaska villages, always in very remote parts of the state, always with no one there to supervise them except themselves. They were a law unto themselves, and they did whatever they wished.
MARK TRAHANT: There would be other abusers associated with the church in St. Michael. One seemed to favor exposing himself to girls.
ALBERTA STEVE: When it first happened to me, I was 5. I can remember the day, putting my head down when I saw him come out with no clothes, and I was scared. The next thing I remember, somebody was touching me on my arm. He would ask if we wanted to touch his private area and he would say he would give us candy or give us a good prize.
KENNETH ROOSA: This was 1970. It was absolutely unthinkable that the Catholic church could be involved in the sexual abuse of children. There was nowhere for the kids to hide. There was no one they could talk to. The adults believed the abusers over their own children. It was a perfect storm for molestation.
ALBERTA STEVE: He told us that if we told anybody, they wouldn't believe us because he worked for a church. He works for God. And he was right, nobody would believe us.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I told my dad what happened in the church. I told him that guy touched me in my mouth and in my bottom. I remember my dad grabbing his belt. And he hung me upside down and he beat me, told me never to blame priests like that. My dad went out. He came back pretty drunk, and I saw him holding a pistol in his hand. He looked at my mom and pointed the gun at her. The gun went off. And my brother was in front. Bullet pierced both of them. I held him in my arm. My brother didn't have to die just because I told my dad the truth.
MARK TRAHANT: The abuse in St. Michael would continue for five more years as Ben and the others suffered almost daily molestation. Then one day in the summer of 1975, Joseph Lundowski would finally be caught in the act.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: My cousin Martha came and she saw what Joseph was doing and she screamed. And she said, "Oh, Ben, I'm going to go tell, I'm going to go tell." He went after her and tried to give her money or candy just to stop her from talking. She said, "No, leave me alone," and then she went running out.
MARK TRAHANT: As word spread, pressure mounted on Father Endal to act.
KENNETH ROOSA: The police were not called. Even when there was an eyewitness to the abuse, the authorities were not called. The church handled it internally. Lundowski was transported out of the town and left the state, and as far as we know, never returned.
MARK TRAHANT: But Father Endal stayed. Through it all, he remained revered and above suspicion, although for eight more years, he would continue to molest the boys and girls of St. Michael. Under Father Endal's watch, nearly 80 percent of the town's children — literally an entire generation — were molested.
KENNETH ROOSA: The odds of being abused as a little Catholic boy or little Catholic girl in that diocese was staggeringly high, higher than any other place in the United States that has ever been investigated to date.
CHARLIE FITKA, Elder: There's a lot of people that will not acknowledge this pain. The hurts and the suffering here, you can tell in their eyes. They're trying to run away from it, but they— it's always there.
MARK TRAHANT: Ultimately, several dozen priests and church workers would be named as abusers— not just in St. Michael but in Alaska native villages across the state.
Few were as widely known at the time as Father James Poole. The host of a popular Catholic radio program, Poole was once profiled by People magazine as one of Alaska's hippest DJs. But decades later, he would be named as an abuser by almost 20 different girls and women.
The first to step forward was Elsie Boudreau.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: Father Poole would have me sit on his lap, straddling his legs, and we would French kiss for hours. He would tell me that he was my friend and that he was my brother, my father, and my lover.
MARK TRAHANT: Boudreau said the abuse lasted for almost 10 years. And on one occasion, she said, Poole raped her. Finally, she moved away and made a new life for herself in Anchorage. She married and started a family.
But then, she said, the memories of the abuse became inescapable.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: When my daughter turned 10, the age that I was when the abuse began, it was really hard to shield the fact that I was sexually abused. It was, like, flooding my consciousness.
MARK TRAHANT: Boudreau turned to the Catholic church for answers, but couldn't get anyone to talk to her. Finally, she got the attention of the new bishop, Donald Kettler, who'd just come from South Dakota to lead the Fairbanks diocese.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: I met Bishop Kettler. I identified that I was a sexual abuse victim of Father Poole's. And I just laid it all out and talked about how hurtful it had been to have come forward and to not get a response from anyone from the church, to not be acknowledged, not be validated, not be comforted, nothing. He didn't get it.
MARK TRAHANT: The Catholic church abuse story was breaking around the country in 2002, and Boudreau decided to call a lawyer. Ken Roosa was a former Anchorage prosecutor who'd just begun to investigate abuse claims across Alaska.
KENNETH ROOSA, Anchorage Attorney: Each time as we identified a new molester, it would open up a new group of victims because no victim wanted to be the first one to say something about a priest until they found out somebody else had made a complaint against their perpetrator. And then they would go, "Wow, I'm not the only one."
ELSIE BOUDREAU: My name is Elsie Boudreau. My Yupik name is Abucan.
MARK TRAHANT: Boudreau filed suit against the church, and then she decided to go public.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: We ask that the church stop hindering the criminal and civil prosecution of men who have abused our children and the people who have covered up the crimes.
MARK TRAHANT: As the story unfolded, dozens more victims came forward. This time, attorney Roosa filed a class action focused mostly on the abuse of Joseph Lundowski in St. Michael.
KENNETH ROOSA: It's pretty clear from the evidence that Lundowski molested every male child he could get his hands on. He lived and breathed every moment of every day to molest boys.
MARK TRAHANT: The public spotlight now fell on Bishop Donald Kettler, who was forced to respond to claims about Lundowski on the local news.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER, Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks: [Nov. 2004, KTUU] I was completely surprised. I did not know anything about this, or that— I didn't know who this gentleman was. All I can tell you, all that I know, is that he was listed as a volunteer.
MARK TRAHANT: The Bishop first denied any church responsibility for Lundowski. Then he said the church had no knowledge of his abuse.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: [WTUU] There's nothing that we have found that would indicate that Lundowski sexually abused any children. Nothing that we've found.
MARK TRAHANT: But Ken Roosa turned up new information from the church's own files.
KENNETH ROOSA: We looked at documents to prove to the church that Joe worked for them and extracted all the evidence, and then gave it back to them and said, "Now tell me Joe Lundowski didn't work for you."
MARK TRAHANT: In the end, the evidence proved undeniable. The claims against Joseph Lundowski alone would grow to 112 victims. Twenty-six more would come forward against Father Endal, and another 18 people would ultimately name Father Jim Poole. A number of these women claimed Poole raped them, although in a deposition with victims' attorneys, Father Poole would say that he never raped anyone. By 2008, the church faced hundreds of claims and began talking about settling out of court.
But little of this healed things for the victims in St. Michael. For years, Packy struggled with alcohol and drugs, and his own acts of domestic abuse led to three of his children being taken away by the state.
Ben also has a history of domestic violence, sometimes landing him in jail, and he hasn't held a job in years.
Alberta's never managed to talk about what happened. Even though the abuse ran deep through her family, it became a taboo subject. And it's the difficulty of breaking this silence that's bringing one of her fellow survivors to St. Michael.
Elsie Boudreau is now trying to get people here talking.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: My hope is that as Yupik people, that we can move beyond the shame and the guilt and have the strength of our ancestors to be able to sit in a circle with other survivors and to say, "These things happened to me. And what are we going to do about it?"
MARK TRAHANT: Boudreau arranged the first meeting of the St. Michael victims.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: I'm honored to be here in St. Michael among all of you. And I know, as survivors, it's often hard to come together as a group to face what happened to you. I'm curious about you, Alberta, and how it feels for you to be in this circle, being that this is your first time.
ALBERTA STEVE: I was thinking of what people will say— we're doing it just for the money, we're— "They're lying."
ELSIE BOUDREAU: Yeah.
ALBERTA STEVE: But it's not that. We were hurt as kids. [weeps] They hurt us, and it can never be fixed.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: I was very angry and upset because I started wondering how come I was crying. I really needed help, and I didn't know what was going on at the time. I did not know I was suffering PTSD.
I still have nightmares about Joe Lundowski molesting, having sex with me, get up sweating, angry, feel like I could hurt somebody. But I never meant to get angry at my children, but the anger went on my children also.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: I know it's hard, Packy, and I'm sorry that all of that has happened to you and your kids.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: I keep asking for help. Nobody's been listening to me for a long time.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: Go ahead, Tommy.
TOMMY CHEEMUK: It wasn't your fault. It wasn't your fault.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: It's almost like a universal pain. And it runs very deep. If Jesus were to come to the village, I have no doubt in my mind that he would be crying. He would cry. You know, it's hard to see your own people hurting so much when you know that there's so much strength and beauty.
CHARLIE FITKA: The only way that this thing is going to go away is people starting to forgive each other and forgive the Catholic church.
MARK TRAHANT: For almost eight years, the survivors in St. Michael have been waiting for an apology from Bishop Donald Kettler and the church.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: As bishop, I express profound sadness—
MARK TRAHANT: Now the Bishop is no longer denying church responsibility for the abuse and he says he's sorry that he didn't reach out to the victims sooner.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: What I'm saying to you today I probably would not have been able to say eight years ago. I regret that. But like everybody, being— we have to learn and grow and— but I never felt at any time that somehow— that I would not have to admit to and say that these things happened, you know, and— because you have to learn, you know, I guess how you're going to say it. I don't know.
MARK TRAHANT: The bishop's now being forced to apologize. As part of the church settlement with the victims, the court ordered him to return to all of the villages and meet with the victims in person, something no other bishop in the country has done on this scale.
He landed in St. Michael in December 2010.
Bishop DONALD Kettler: In St. Michael's, we've had a great deal of our sexual abuse happen there, and so I am conscious of the importance of this visit. I'm anxious insofar as I'm wondering how I will be received. What will happen, what I can do
ELSIE BOUDREAU: When they settled the cases, one of the things that the committee asked for was that the bishop would travel to the villages where there were victims and have a mass and apologize because we want the bishop and the church to take responsibility.
TOMMY CHEEMUK: I'd be really looking forward for him to come and apologize to each.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: It looks like it would mean a lot to you.
TOMMY CHEEMUK: That would make relief, some relief from what—
ELSIE BOUDREAU: I've seen how important it would be to have someone from the church say they're sorry. The bishop has that power to reach that little kid, and say, "It wasn't your fault. You did nothing wrong." And I don't know if he's able to do that.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: I've come this evening just to— to hear what you'd like to tell me, or what you'd like to say to me. So if there's something that you'd like to tell me, please, you know, do that.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: Joseph Lundowski, Father Endal—
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Yes. Yes.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: —they were responsible for molesting me when I was a young boy. And all this time, I had this question. Why did they do this to me? And I wish that those who victimized me, I wish they were here, too.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Yes. Yeah. And that they would be punished, too, you know?
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I told my dad what happened in the church. My dad came in drunk with a pistol in hand. I held my brother in my arm while he was dying.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: In his mind, he sees the fact that his brother died as his fault because he told the truth, and he has a hard time moving beyond that.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I got so much anger inside me!
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Yes.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I'm trying to compose myself.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: I'm sorry. Thank you.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
I don't think I understood the hurt that existed in communities. The process that I went through was a deeper understanding of the depth of the hurt. We can never do enough to make up for what's happened to them personally.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I hope my brother can rest now.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Your brother is what?
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I hope my brother can rest now.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Yeah. Yeah.
ELSIE BOUDREAU: I want the shame that Ben carries to be lifted, and for the bishop to take that because it's not Ben's to carry. It's not Packy's. It's not mine. It's not, you know, any of ours to carry. I want him to feel that, you know, to take that away from our people.
MARK TRAHANT: In the years since the abuse occurred, the Catholic church in St. Michael has slowly lost almost all of its members and no full-time priest has served here in years. When the Bishop held a mass before he left, only a handful of the survivors showed up.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: I offer you both my apology and a little explanation of what I am attempting to do now, so that what happened to many will not happen again.
PETER OPACKYO KOBUK: I'm really hurting. I'm hoping to leave this anger. I've been working on it a long time. I stopped praying for now, and then come back praying.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Please forgive me and the church for any hurt that has come to you from the church.
ALBERTA STEVE: Thank you.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: You're welcome.
ALBERTA STEVE: When he was saying he was sorry, that made me cry. It's the first time ever somebody ever said "Sorry" for what somebody else did.
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Please forgive me and the church for any hurt that has come to you from the church.
TOMMY CHEEMUK: I accept. [weeps]
Bishop DONALD KETTLER: Thank you. Thank you.
Please forgive me and the church for any hurt that has come to you from the church.
BENJAMIN ANDREWS: I feel a lot better after confronting the bishop. The pain's always going to be there. You know, it's time for me to move on.
MARK TRAHANT: Father Endal died in 1996. Until the scandal broke, he would be celebrated by the church as one of Alaska's great pioneer priests.
Joseph Lundowski died in a Chicago rescue mission years before the accusations against him began to surface.
Father Jim Poole, the radio priest from Nome, has denied most of the victims' accusations. In a deposition with victims' attorneys, he admitted only that he sometimes French-kissed native girls. To this day, Father Poole remains in a church retirement home near Spokane, Washington. He did not respond to FRONTLINE's request for an interview.
Because of the statute of limitations, none of the priests or church workers connected to the St. Michael abuse would ever be prosecuted.