Interview Bishop Donald Kettler
Since 2002 he has served as bishop under the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. As part of the diocese's legal settlement with sexual abuse survivors, Kettler traveled to the villages of St. Michael and Stebbins in December 2010 to apologize on behalf of the church. This is the edited transcript of two interviews; the first was conducted by reporter Mark Trahant on Oct. 22, 2010, before the bishop's visit; the second was conducted by Trahant and producer Tom Curran on Dec. 7, 2010, after his visit.
In St. Michael and in an accompanying village of Stebbins, we've had a great deal of our sexual abuse happen there, very seriously in numbers and so on, primarily from a lay volunteer that lived there over a number of years. So I am certainly conscious of the importance of this visit and trying to reach out to a large number of survivors. So that's in the back of my mind how I might do that.
It's not the first visit. I've visited there, each of them, two, three, four times. And in fact, I've actually been to both of those villages where they built new churches, and I've dedicated both of those churches since I've come here as bishop. But I'm anxious about how this will go, how I can get the right message of healing. ...
I'm going to stay a little longer there than I stayed elsewhere simply to give everybody an opportunity, if they would like to visit with me or to participate in some of the healing services. So we're going to spend a little more time there for that reason. I just don't want to look like I'm coming and then leaving again. So we'll spend a week or so there. ...
St. Michael and Stebbins [are], as you said, really hard hit. As the trip is approaching, does that weigh on you, and how do you deal with that?
... Obviously I'm praying about it, and I've been doing that for months now. I'm asking myself, what is the best way to get this message to the people, how I can do that.
I'm anxious insofar as I'm wondering how I will be received, what will happen, what I can do. I want to be a positive; I don't want to make things even worse. And I want people to know that this is important to me. So I guess I'm anxious for the time to come because it needs to be done, but I hope that we can do it correctly and that I'll get the time and so on.
And you do get a little bit discouraged or down yourself doing healing services, so I hope that I'm alert enough to respond well, to listen, those kinds of things. I'm not afraid of it coming, but I'm anxious about what might happen. But I'm still looking forward to it. It's time to get to it.
But then I always know this is just a one-time -- I mean, this is one time I'm going to do this. This isn't going to solve everything; I've got to continue to do that. So I'll be going back there in the future, too, and I hope to be able to build on what has happened so that we have some sort of a foundation to work on.
Do you know victims there? I know you've since had to be quiet [per advice from the legal team for the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks]. Have you pushed relationships with some of the survivors? Do you know any of them?
... A few, because they've been coming up to me or something, and they told me that. I did travel with some of the legal team into those two villages, gee, two or three years ago I think now, and some of the survivors actually addressed me and this group. So I know who they are, and some of them I knew before that.
But many of the victims I don't know. If they would come to the service I wouldn't necessarily even know for sure that they were one of the survivors. ...
So the victims came up to you. What was that like? Just give me a sense of how that went.
... They were obviously in pain, obviously hurt. Because they came to me, they had not completely cut the church off for what had happened, which was helpful, because they, a lot of them, some have love for the church, yet some don't -- you know, the anger and so on. But the ones that came to me wanted to talk to me about that, I think.
So I was kind of honored, I guess, to think that they would still come to me, and obviously I did say, "I apologize, obviously, for what has happened." ... I think in almost every case, they said something like, "It's been really hard for me to come back to the church," the building. And my response would be, "Well, I hope that this might help you do that."
The church is for them; they're not for the church. So you try to express that: "Do come back, not because of what happened to you, but the church, the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ is there for you." And because of what's happened, they can't come to receive something that they have a right to have. ...
Did you change through that process? It's been, what, eight years now [since you were named bishop in 2002]? Tell me about your journey.
... I certainly did not understand all of the hurt that was there in people. I had known a few survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. I had worked with a few before I came here. I was not aware of the deep hurt that's there. I just learned that, and I'm really just learning it now, because, again, I'm just hearing a lot of this more recently, too.
But I certainly asked myself and prayed about how serious this is. What are you going to do about this? And how do you overcome a situation that was 50 years old? ... So you ask those things. I've really always had a sense that this is what I was supposed to do, and when you've had that feeling, you're not reluctant to try to work out, to reach out in healing and so on. But there's certainly a deepening of the understanding of the seriousness of what happened that went on; frustration over being able to respond to this because of the growing numbers, not knowing how we were going to deal with that, a fear on my part of having to go through reorganization of the church.
What's going to happen to the church? Am I going to be able to continue maintaining just basic things in the villages? ... There was a lot of that fear on my part. What will come next? Waiting and trying for the next thing to happen, or just waiting ... to continue, to move forward, and somehow that time sometimes went slow. ... It's actually better when the time comes to do something -- action rather than just worrying about it. So it was an interesting and oftentimes challenging eight years, no doubt. ...
This must be a really difficult place to have to go each time you go on these trips. Do you call on your faith, your own spirituality? How is that hard on you?
Oh, sure. When I am about [to hold] these healing services, where do I get strength to do this? First of all, priests -- and I've been a priest for 40 years -- a priest is a reconciler. So even though I wish I didn't have to do these things, that these things didn't happen, part of the work of a priest is to work for healing. So I see in all of this even a close connection with priesthood when I'm about [to do these services]. So I believe that.
Prayer every day about this. It does me good to also be able to talk, would it be with staff or other people or even in a setting like this to talk about it. It seems to help to address that. Gives some clarity to what I'm thinking and trying to do. But to have that sense of the presence of the spirit to help you, the Holy Spirit, and that's really important to me. And I pray for that every day.
But I'm trying to show that despite the sadness of what we're doing here, it is very closely related to what priests are supposed to be doing. That's one of the reasons why it's so sad, what happened, because priesthood, that is supposed to be for love and the presence of God and so on. Some of the priests and other church members broke that in half. And so, hopefully, it's just we're going back to the way the church was supposed to be. And because it's like that, I feel that I'm doing a good priesthood right now. ...
Editor's Note: The following interview was conducted after the bishop's visit to St. Michael and Stebbins.
What we'd like you to try to do is to help us understand the evolution of your thinking in all of this, and maybe take us back to when you first arrived and what you were thinking about this as the very beginning of it started to unfold, ... when you first arrived as the [bishop] of the diocese.
I first came to the Diocese of Fairbanks in 2002. There was some awareness that there had been sexual abuse in various dioceses, and I had a bit of a concern [about] that, wondering if that same kind of situation [had existed] in the Diocese of Fairbanks. I had not been alerted to anything like that. [It was] soon after I arrived, within a few months I would say, that some of the cases, the claimants were coming forward and saying that they had been abused, primarily among the Native peoples out in the rural areas -- the bush area -- and I was concerned about how widespread that might be and didn't know.
But fairly quickly, although I did begin to meet with some of the claimants, some of the victims -- and did meet with them -- and we actually even worked out some settlements with a few of them, but the numbers kept coming in. And then the claimants, the victims, after a while were told by their attorneys that any contact that I would want to make with them should be done through their attorneys, and that pretty much effectively stopped my communication with any of the victims as they came forward. So for two or three years, all I was hearing is there are additional claimants.
It got to the point then where obviously I knew this was a very significant, a very sad situation, but didn't know exactly what we're going to do next, because all I was hearing is just more and more claims coming in toward us. To be able to deal with them, I needed -- there were expenses with that, just to process and determine what we should be doing; we didn't know. The court decided that there was a significant number that they wanted the diocese to propose five of the victims, and then the victims themselves would propose five claimants, and that the court wanted to just try those 10 cases to see how a jury would deal with them.
At that point, it became impossible for me to be able to finance that step, so then we began to -- and again, I'm still not really making any personal contact with any of the claimants, only through the attorneys. And at that point, we made the determination that we would probably have to go through a court-ordered reorganization through bankruptcy in order to begin to try to deal with the victims, at least on a financial level and so on. And so after a few months of that, we determined in about March of I think 2008 that we would have to go through the reorganization.
The next step was that we had had a significant number of claimants already, but then at that point, we had to advertise. Actually did that nationally and then certainly throughout all of Alaska, through all of the Native papers, our urban papers, television and so on. We advertised and asked for any other additional claimants or victims to come forward. And we did that for most of the year in 2008, and then at the end of 2008, in December, the court said that we had satisfied that requirement, and they put a bar date and said that now there wouldn't be additional claimants coming forward. And then from that point on, we were just basically negotiating with mediation and so on to try to come up with a way of meeting satisfactorily the compensation requests of the claimants. And then we came out of reorganization in March of this year, 2010.
Part of the settlement was that I was to do some nonmonetary things as well, healing services and so on, and explaining to the victims/survivors that they were not responsible in any way for what happened and so on. So some of it the court asked me to do or told me I should do that. But throughout all that time, from the very beginning, I've known that you can't leave a situation like it is, and there was damage done -- serious hurt done by the church, and that I would need to respond to that somehow.
So starting in probably a month after we came out of reorganization, we started putting together a plan to try to reach out to all of the survivors, starting with letters that I sent to all of them, all that we had, apologizing, telling them that at some point, I would be coming to their residence, to the villages where they lived, and also be willing to meet with them, to offer directly personally to them my apologies; to offer to them the possibility if they would like to have counseling that we would try to set that up for them and provide it for them; spend some prayer time and so on, so individually, and then telling them that I would also come for some listening sessions and some healing services with the Mass and without.
One of the points that I tried to make was, I said, "Work with your local people and the ministers that are here to determine how you want to do this, whether we should have our listening sessions at the church, perhaps where some of the abuse actually took place, or would you like to have it off-site someplace else," to let them determine -- and in fact, over these months now, I've had different approaches. I've invited them to provide some of the ceremony, some of the ideas that they would like me to use in the healing ceremonies, so that would be more appropriate to the culture.
And then April 2010, then I did start the process of reaching out, coming to villages. Before I would come to any particular village, I'd send a second letter to those survivors that were living in that village, and again offer my apologies, tell them I was coming, invite them to, if they liked, to see me personally, to make an appointment or just come while I was there, and then I started conducting the services, having probably done two-thirds of the villages now so far in the last six to eight months, and probably have another six or eight more to go.
But I don't want to somehow say by that that I have a certain number to go that somehow we've all finished; this is all done; one should go through it once. And it's become very obvious that the hurt was very deep. I could understand it in the individuals. I don't think I understood the hurt that existed in communities over this, and so knowing [that, I know] now that much more has to be done yet. So really the process that I went through was a deeper understanding of the depth of the hurt, and secondly, how it impacted not only family members but the whole community, and then having to say, "Well, how do you try to bring about some healing, begin some healing in that regard, too?"
Back in your own mind, was there an angst when you thought about the lawyers on one hand and your duties as a shepherd on the other hand?
I suppose the biggest [thing] that happened to me was the fact that I could not make any contact, do anything about this situation for years. And obviously, the lawyers, the attorneys were telling them that, telling me that I could not make any contact, so in that regard, yes. And they would represent, and then ... the whole negotiation over a financial settlement was difficult, and we were far apart. And being a missionary diocese, we did not have a lot of financial resources, and wondering whether we're ever going to get to a place where we could agree to something.
So in that regard, too, there was that anxiousness, that wondering what we're going to be able to do. I'd never been through reorganization and have to go through that whole process. I didn't know about the process, and it was much more complicated and involved than I ever expected. And so that, too, would cause anxiety as we went through, and it lasted a couple of years.
Some of the victims I know told you that even now they feel like they read [about] large settlements in the [lower] 48, and then they see the ones that [they got], and they think, "Why the difference?" How do you talk to them about that?
I hope that they understand that when I speak of being a missionary diocese, it means that we do not have many of the resources that other places have. Even our buildings, you know -- and I think they know that. I mean, they know what their church looks like. They know that we don't have rectories. ...
Many of the dioceses [have] had cemeteries, and they would have permanent funds in the cemeteries that the diocese could borrow money from to use in settlements. We didn't have any place where we could go to even borrow the money. So I hope that they understand their situation and know that it's just a completely different situation up here and so on. So that's going to drive what we were able to do. I think we really stretched what I thought we could do in the first place to make the settlement a little better, but it's definitely different.
Early on, there were opportunities to settle for even less. Was that something you look back on and think, if you could have put it to rest earlier on [before reorganization], it would have made a difference? ...
Well, the problem was that additional claimants kept coming forward, so we never got to a point where we could really put an end to it. We had to find out who had been abused and when that happened, and when we discovered that, we knew that this was going to have to be done in a pool basis in a general settlement, because we weren't going to be able to just settle with one or two. I think that would have used up any other resources we had, and then there wouldn't have been anything for many of the people.
Of the abuse here?
The numbers of the abuse.
Well, I've heard people say that the numbers here were much larger and so on here, maybe because of the remoteness and so on. There were approximately 26 priests that were accused, many of those only with one accusation, one claimant. And so out of the 26, I did look back to see how many priests were here through this -- and we're talking about a 50-to-60-year period, and there were between 400 and 500 priests here during that time. So to me, the percentage of -- which was too high -- but the percent still was very much like other places throughout the United States. So I didn't see that as a particularly big item.
I do think that sometimes sexual abuse is situational; it's caused by the situation that a person is in. And I suspect that the cold, the remoteness and so on, if there was an inclination to doing this, that could have exacerbated it some. But I've never felt that just the basic numbers were that different than other places in the United States. [The] reason why we had to go through the [re]organization, whereas some other dioceses [don't], although they have numerous claimants, was the fact that we didn't have the resources to reach out with individual settlements.
What about in terms of victims -- and percentages seem to be higher here?
If you take about six of the priests and two or three lay volunteers, they account for all but about 40 of our cases. So for some reason -- and I can't answer that question at all, why the high numbers among those seven or eight -- but that's where the abuse primarily happened. So the only thing I can say about Alaska is somehow Alaska in this situation might have contributed to those eight people doing this, but I don't know whether that caused more or not. I don't know that.
Back to your personal journey. Did you feel like you could get enough information from church and parishes when you were first trying to find out how many and what the situation was?
There [were] very little records. We looked through all of our communications from the parishes, and there were many, many files of communications from the parishes, and there wasn't any reference to sexual abuse. There would have been difficulties. People would have written in and said they might have had this particular problem with a priest -- there was a little of that -- but most of it was just regular administrative kind of communications.
So, you know, even as they came forward from the parishes, I did not have a lot of information more than that. I had to rely on basically what I was told by the claimants.
So in the victims' eyes, they see this and say, "We told people, and it went nowhere."
Yeah, and I don't know how to answer that. I just don't know, you know. All I can do is look back with whatever kinds of records we have, and I didn't find that.
Was there any moment where it really hit you on how widespread the situation was?
A couple different times. When this continued to grow , I knew that we would not be able to work with this on a one-to-one basis at that point, somewhere in those first two to three years. And then after we went into reorganization and also found and saw many more coming forward, almost doubling this size, there would have been another significant time for me.
One of the victims told me in the meeting with you [in December 2010] that every time she looked at you, she saw ... [Father George S. Endal, S.J.] laughing at her, and I was thinking, in a way you're a representative of the predators, but they couldn't be here. There are still those who are alive who have been outside of the laity of the church. Maybe talk about that a little bit.
The ones that are still alive that are --
Well, as one person told me: "They don't have to worry where their next meal is coming from. They don't have to bear the shame that I do."
Yeah. I think that's true that they are in kind of a protected situation. My responsibility is to see that they do not continue to function as priests, and that has happened, and that they are in a situation also where they cannot hurt anybody else. But do they suffer the consequences of the survivors because of what has happened? You know, it's frustrating to me.
They're very elderly, ... most of them, if they are still alive. And do I think that they've come to realize a little more some of the implications of what they did? I think so. I think with all that has happened now, that there's some of that. But is it fair, equitable and stuff? I don't know how it could be,. What they did was unbelievable.
Have you talked to any of them?
I have not. None of them are living in Alaska.
... With that question of the priests, let's say like Father [James E.] Poole, S.J., or someone who really did an awful lot of damage, if you were a victim and you were looking through their eyes, and knowing that the person who hurt you is -- I'm just going be very candid here -- is not in jail, if you were looking at it from their viewpoint, what would you think is fair? ...
It's never going be fair to the victim what's happened to them, and I don't really even know what kind of punishment would be effective now for the perpetrators who are still alive. One of the things that I hope that survivors want to have happen is that they can guarantee that what happened to them would never happen to anybody else. So I'm hoping that what we do now -- and I've worked very hard at this -- is to make sure that it won't happen again and that the survivors know that probably one of the main reasons why I've gotten to this point or where we've as a church has gotten to this point is because of their coming forward.
So there's no satisfaction, I think, to what has happened. I pray and hope that they will be able to forgive and to offer their forgiveness, not only for the sake of the person who did it, but for their own sake. And I believe that being able to forgive can bring a little peace into their hearts. And I've seen that happen. If they can say to me, "I forgive you for the part that I had to play with it," and they do say sometimes, "I feel better," you know, so maybe there's something happening in there. But we can never do enough to make up for what's happened to them personally.
In one of the listening sessions, the word "shame" was almost used as a noun, as something you carry around as a weight. Has that weight been passed to the church?
To some degree. It has to me, and I'm sure the church feels -- I don't know what else you could call it -- but shame for what's happened. And that shame was not something that should be carried by any of the survivors. The shame has to be carried by those who did this or provided a setting -- and that's what the victims said about us, that somehow we provided a situation that allowed this to happen.
Do you think part of the reason there's a perception of outright cover-up is because there wasn't an institutional way to keep track of people?
Here in Alaska, the miles and the separation obviously, to me, seems to say that that could have been one of the reasons why we didn't get any information or know about this. I think most of our sexual abuse situations were completed acts that [were] no longer happening before the telephone even arrived in the villages. I'm told that in some villages, there wasn't a phone until 1985, so communications were very limited. People didn't travel from village to village. Ministers didn't even leave oftentimes for years at a time.
So I can see how knowledge about this, even if it was talked about -- and I wonder how much it ever was talked about, even in families. It just wasn't communicated. But the church still has some responsibility, but I guess we didn't know we were supposed to do that. We're at a different place now than we were 20 or 30 years ago in what we have to watch for and talk about and do, and to protect, which we didn't do back then. ...
[Have the sex abuse scandals] changed the face of the priesthood? Are people coming in now for different reasons?
There are people that will approach for certain issues now that didn't before. But there is also a reluctance on both the priests' side and the people's side to have their kids come into contact with the priest and so on. There's a reluctance there, I think, that has to be overcome. And [there's] a reluctance on the part of the priests themselves to not to give the wrong impression or something. They're very conscious of that, and so the relationship [between parishioners] and priests has changed now because of it, some necessary, [but] some of it I think prevents them to be as effective as [they] could be because of that.
I know you've heard some extraordinary personal stories this week. How have you reflected on those? What have they meant to you?
How important it was for the church to reach out and for me to reach out and to offer them an opportunity to say something -- maybe it's just [to let them know it's] OK for them say something. Even sometimes I think my coming might have even helped one or another to say something to their spouse that they had never said before. So I am grateful for the opportunity to have offered that to happen, keeping in mind always, however, there's so much more to be done, and people have a long ways to go.
And there's people in this community that I did not see. Now they've maybe got a letter from me, and so that might spark something someday that they might move forward, because it is so important, I believe, to talk to people about it. And I have to say the attorneys and so on, the part that was good for what they did that was helpful was to get people to talk about it. And so we need to continue to do that. I don't know how communities will [deal] with this, but to get a support group or let them talk together or call people together is really important.
Would it have been helpful to have brought mental health with you and kind of coordinated the whole thing? I'm just thinking that I'm corking a lot of emotions.
Yeah. And we made some contacts to make sure that there would be people on hand, if things would come along, [who] we could contact. They wanted to see the bishop. They said in the settlement and so on, they said, "The bishop's got to be the one that comes around," and they didn't say that there should be with him counselors. So I kind of took that [to mean that in] this step, I would do this part.
We have people working with us as counselors and so on so that we can make connections fairly quickly if we need to. But, you know, do you understand all what could happen? I was hoping it would go all right.
How is your assessment of it after a week?
I think I've been able to invite some people to begin. I think some have stepped forward now who are looking for or would like to have some counseling and so on that I will be able to provide. There are others that we haven't made the contact yet with. Don't know if or when we might.
I hope that with a few more of our ministers, our priests and sisters here, that as time goes on, because they've had some conversations among themselves -- survivors and so on -- that they might seek out and make contact with some of our professional people, some of our own lay leaders in parishes who are from the community to reach out to them. And then they in turn, if the counseling and so on would be of help, I think we would be able to provide that.
When an individual comes to you and many of your folk who have been praying for years, where were their prayers during those dark times, and how do you explain that to them?
How come they prayed for a resolution or healing and their prayers weren't answered? I don't have a good answer. I don't have a good response. Why doesn't God respond quickly? All we know is that persistent prayer does work, and I guess I would say that today is an answer to their prayer versus 10 years ago, but I can't tell you why it took so long. I can't answer that.
So much of this deals with institutions, and the role of institutions is changing. How do you use this to get people to think again about the church and a community, and as an institution?
The church as an institution is itself made up of people. And anytime that I can get a person in place, that's going to make the church present. And so getting people here -- pastoral caring people in place -- that's going to tell people what the church is as an institution. But you need the institution, because I can't put people here on-site, for example, if the institution is not there to provide a building and heat and a salary. So the institution is very important, but hopefully it will [heal] in the same way, [in] that the church was damaged by the people who did what they did.
Healing in the church is only going to do things for good with the people that are here. So the task is to be able to build up the structure, the people of the church, and we're going to have to restore the trust that was lost through the people that are here. And also, I need to take care of the priests and sisters. That's an institutional task to make sure that they are not burning out or being pushed into a situation that could risk some of these things happening again, so I have to do that, and provide materials and so on for helping what we do out here, do that.
For 20 years now, the Native Ministry Training Program has been functioning out here where we're calling forth lay leaders, Native people to be leaders and to train them; and hopefully, their presence and their work will also be that church that we're talking about. And the institution makes this thing possibly happen, but it depends completely on the people that you have on-site. And we're short, you know. We're very short of ministers and religious sisters, so we have the importance of calling forth lay leaders, and also inviting other people -- priests, especially from other parts of the world -- to come and serve as missionaries here, because we've always been that.
And in fact, the Jesuits, most of them came from elsewhere and served as missionaries. We need to continue to do that. But it can't come from a religious community, because their numbers are down dramatically, so it has to come from more of the dioceses or from different countries and so on to come and help.
I'm struck by this visit by the sheer depth of the graciousness of the number of the people. After such horrific incidents, how does it feel to be receiving that graciousness?
Yeah, and I'm always amazed by that. I'm always respected when they come here, when I come. The people have deep respect; they care. Even those that are upset with the church are kind to me, and that's part of the culture and the personalities of the people out here, that they care for others. They have to care for people because of the environment and so on. I think they've learned that deeply, so it's amazing how I am respected when I come, despite what I represent, what I -- sometimes, as you say -- sometimes I remind them about.
It's also remarkable that the word "survivor" is often used. And folks here are literally survivors because so many people haven't made that -- and particularly with the high suicide rate. How do you respond to families about that and about those that haven't carried on?
I don't have a good message for them. I know the loss is intense and deep. Asking for apology is a little step. Forgiveness, you know, we have to do. And my faith does tell me that God takes care of those who have died, too, and that there is a situation or a time or a place when there's no more hurt and no more abuse and so on. But that doesn't fully help either, because that's later. That's the next life. What do you tell people here? I hope that it's enriching their faithfulness, their faith lives themselves, that they will find in that some kind of an answer to the suicide that I'm not able to give.
How will you know when this has worked?
All of this has been positive, even [has] done something. I wish there would be a time when you could just look back at it and say, "Well, it's all fixed." Not going to happen. It's going to be slow, and it's going to be a long time. And I don't know if this will ever disappear from the church's history, you know, but hopefully there will be people with faith continuing to be part of the church. And so if we're still here, I think maybe that's sign that we've done some things.
And we want to be here, and we need to be here. We came here 200 years ago almost, as missionaries, and want to continue to be here for the people, because Jesus told us we're supposed to do that.
[We] want to go back and explore just a little bit more on your journey. ... There was a  TV documentary on KTUU -- and if you look back at [your] statements, it was generally dismissive of both the depth of the claims. Can you see how a victim might look at that and think --
Sure, sure. And you know, be it me or anybody else, we have to learn, and you have to experience what they're going through, and you learn that. What I'm saying to you today I probably would not have been able to say eight years ago, and I regret that. But like everybody, we have to learn and grow. But I never felt at anytime that somehow, that I would not have to admit to and say that these things happened, because you have to learn. I guess how you're going to say it -- I don't know. ... But all I can say is that we've learned a lot from that.
Maybe along those lines, how could you have turned [the whole situation] around early on and dealt with it? Would there have been another way?
Learning takes time, and you have to go through the process. Not all of a sudden there's going to be a light bulb light up and say, "Do it this way," you know? You have to learn and so on, and talk to people. And not being able to talk to survivors also I think delayed the process for me.
When you came to St. Michael in 2007, and it was insurance people and lawyers, and some of the victims didn't feel like this was the apology they'd been waiting for; instead it was a very legal -- again, they felt put off and back-distanced. ...
Again, the whole of that was different. The purpose of those visits was to allow the victims and the survivors to be able to tell their story so that the story would be out there and that it would be heard by me and others as we were going through this process of settlement. So the whole purpose was different. And even at that point, I was asked not to make contact with any of the survivors.
Did they know that?
I don't know.
The story from the listening session, where [a survivor] reached out and talked about how his whole life he's been branded a liar, first by his parents and then by the church, that just doesn't go away in a moment.
For Ben [Andrews], his very, very sad story -- and he's going to be carrying that, I think, for the rest of his life. And he was branded as a liar, and I hope that my telling him that he isn't, and repeating it -- and others are doing that now -- will ease that hurt. But again, it's a regret that I have that that label was placed on him.
What was going through your mind when you heard that story [about Andrews' father shooting and killing his brother after Ben told him about being sexually molested by Joseph Lundowski, a layman in training to be a deacon]?
You know that, in the cases of many of our survivors, that when they did report it to family or somebody, that they weren't believed. So I knew that. So the fact that he would tell me those things didn't surprise me, but that doesn't make it any better. And that was a situation that is one of the most difficult things.
The whole idea that they carried the shame on themselves -- "They said somehow I was responsible or did that," and none of which is true. And we have to keep affirming that fact that they were not responsible for what they did; they did not contribute to it in any way; and that it was always wrong, and it was the perpetrator who did what was wrong, and they didn't.
Maybe I learned from that story, when I have opportunities ever to address this with other people, to talk about the fact that they were telling the truth and that I believe it; and maybe they'll accept the fact that I say that, too, as something that they will believe.
I'm going to shift to [Peter] "Packy" [Kobuk]. With Packy, part of his frustration over the years is when he'd raise things, he didn't feel like anyone listened to him, so that, too, was another form of denial. Do you think systems are in place now where that listening is always open if somebody raises alarm bells?
I hope so. And you know, I do think that should an allegation come forward now, that it will be reported to law enforcement. I'm not even allowed to make a decision all by myself.
So if an allegation comes forward, I place it in the hands of a review board made up of people that understand these situations, like law enforcement, attorneys, counselors, educators, and they look at that, and they're not going to let me hide something. They're going to come forward and say, "You have to deal with that now."
So there are some safeguards to make sure that we wouldn't follow it back into some of those steps and not really look at something that happens, an allegation that comes forward.
When you sit one-on-one with the victims, are the conversations then toned differently? Is there any kind of depth of pain or information that you get that's different from the broader listening session?
From the listening sessions? You know, I'd like to be able to say that there's always something better there. I also have to admit, though, I think that because it's one-on-one and I'm the bishop, there might still be some reluctance in their letting all of their feelings come out, because there's that authority relationship that's between us, and I think that intervenes in some cases.
So I think where there's a situation where there's a few people that are speaking in a listening session, that might encourage them to do more that they would even do one-on-one. However, in a one-to-one situation, I am able to respond to them directly, and I think they appreciate that, and they see me not so much only as an authority person, but as somebody, hopefully, that cares and is somewhat pastoral to help them as well. Both ways work, and both ways don't work.
Several of the victims have talked about nightmares that recur. Is there anything from this experience that haunts you?
I worry about moving forward and being able to reach out to those that have not come forward, and if I would visit or if we would have a listening session with any of them, the hurt and the tears and so on that we've seen would be theirs as well, and I worry that hasn't happened. ...
... What happened in [your] meeting [with Ben]?
Sorrow. Regret. Frustration. Not being able to do much in responding to him. Somehow -- my relationship with God is really important to me, and that's got to get through me to him to help him. And I'm thinking, "How can I bring something to him that he really deserves through somebody that's not very good at doing that?" I don't do too much. [I] wish that things would have been different, knowing that we've got so far to go yet. ...
If you go back, just going back to these kids, like Packy and Ben and Alberta [Steve], and they're going to their parents and getting no response, and then they go to the church and they don't get any real response, or they don't get any kind of clarity, I mean, they had nowhere to go. When you're feeling that from them now, how does that feel? Can you feel that helplessness?
No, I can't feel their helplessness. No, I can't. My response would be that I should never let that happen again, I guess. There has to be always a way that people can tell others about this; that that helplessness is not there, as much as I can. Should anybody come to me with concerns, I would be pretty sensitive to listening, I think.
But you know, I guess I've said over the years, "Well, I understand," and stuff. And I don't. I don't. But having heard it many times, I'm growing in an awareness of what it might be like. But there's no way for me to try to make up for what's happened. ...
I pray that whatever has started, that will continue. And I pray that they will find a means within the community itself to keep this going, and that if there's ever been any polarization among peoples in the village and so on that they will reconcile, and that this group of Native people, they have a lot of challenges here, but they will have the strength and the courage to carry it on and to maintain the culture and the family and values that they have, that they will not be lost, and that they will keep them, and that they will be happy here. That's what I pray for. ...
Tell me now about your trips to the villages. What's happened so far? What's it like to go there and the process of going there and doing the healing ceremony in the listening circle?
What the experiences of going into the villages for the healing services have meant to me, I've known that I needed to do this from the time that I first heard the experiences of what had happened here. But because we had to go through court-ordered reorganization to somehow gather enough funding for a settlement, I was prevented from doing the healing services by name until recently -- until, actually, the beginning of this year.
So now that I'm free to do that and to make contact with the survivors and to apologize to them personally, this is something that I've only been doing now for a few months. But I've been able to visit about 13 or 14 villages. I've written letters of apology to all of the survivors that we know who they are and where they live. I did that at one time. And then three or four weeks before I visit a particular village where some survivors may live or where some of the abuse actually took place, I write a letter to each individual again apologizing for what happened, telling them what I'm going to be doing in the village in a few weeks, and inviting them either to make contact with me by calling here or to see me while I'm there. So it started off with just an individual, personal letter of apology.
When you go out to the villages, just paint a picture for people that have never been out to a village what that was like for you to get there, to be there, what that experience was like.
When I come to the village, I try to do two or three different things. I try to have a time for a listening session or a talking circle with the people that would like to come. We usually get a few people. We don't get large numbers of people, but we sit down together, and I make an apology again for the hurt that has come but allow the people to talk about their hurts. And it could have been somehow they or a family member or someone could have been sexually abused. It could be other people that have felt the church has hurt them in other ways through the suppression of their language, through cultural things that we didn't allow them to practice and so on.
So they may talk about that or just generally the hurt that they feel over the abuse of the church and how the church, which is supposed to be bringing Jesus Christ to the people, brought them instead this hurt and so on. So we have an opportunity to talk about those things. They find that very, very useful, and a number of people participate, although not in great numbers.
Then I also try to have a healing service itself. It might be in the context of a Mass Eucharist that we had here, or it might be separate. We let the people out there decide where they would like to do this. And as part of the healing service, there's Scripture about healing and forgiveness. There's the celebration of the Eucharist, the Communion that we have which is an emphasis on unity of course, and thanksgiving and forgiveness. And then I read a letter of apology again to the whole community. And I then post that letter at the church, at the back of the church, and ask them to leave it up there for a number of months so that people who couldn't be there, weren't there, would have an opportunity to read my apology and hear it.
After Communion time, I have a little ceremony with blessed oil that we use. We bless this oil, which just means that God is present in that oil somehow. Oil is always a sign in the church of healing and of strength. So with a little healing service, I invite each of the people in the community that are there to come forward. I do apologize to them personally, one-on-one, and I invite them if they'd like to, at the end of my apology, which is just a short thing that I say, they can respond by saying yes or amen, which they always do. And then I anoint them. I put the oil in the form of a cross on their foreheads. And then we give a vial of this oil to the people to take home with them.
I invite them to, if there's people that were not there at the healing service, to place it on each other's foreheads as a sign of the healing that we're trying to bring out to the larger community. For the people that were there, they may sometimes take that oil themselves and are trying to work on forgiveness or healing or something, to mark themselves as well. And that's been a very popular, a very encouraging thing. We keep running out of the little vials because they want to take those home with them. They appreciate having something concrete that they can have in their hands and take home with them.
So it's the personal invitation of forgiveness, asking for forgiveness; it's the listening service; and then it's the healing service perhaps with a Mass, perhaps not. Usually this is followed by a potlatch, a community meal together, which is important, to celebrate whatever we've done together with the meal. And even sometimes there's been dancing, the Eskimo dancing afterward, which, again, same: It's a celebration of what we're trying to do. So those are the things that I've been trying to do in the 13 or 14 villages that I've already been to. ...
[Physically, what are the villages themselves like?]
... First of all, the remoteness strikes you. There are no roads out there. You can't go from village to village by a road. These don't exist. In fact, the people don't even have vehicles. They have snow machines for the wintertime to travel, and they have four-wheelers around the villages. But it is very, very remote.
The villages are relatively poor in the sense of facilities. There's not a lot of things there. The villages are rich in their culture, and they are rich in their subsistence lifestyle, which is the way they've lived for thousands of years, hunting and fishing and gathering. But you're struck by their remoteness, by the poverty of facilities oftentimes. But, as you're going to the villages, there is always a warm welcome. They appreciate seeing the bishop when I come for confirmation or for these healing services. There's always a warm welcome.
I come knowing that it's going to be a difficult two days because of the pain of what we are doing, but I also, at the end of it, have a sense of satisfaction that the people have heard [and] that we have begun something; that [there] is a long ways to go, but they are very receptive and appreciative of my efforts here. But they and I, we all say that if there's going to be wholeness in here after all that has happened, there's going to be a lot more steps that have to be taken for healing. ...