The Silence


In the 1960s and '70s, almost an entire generation of Alaska Native children in the village of St. Michael were sexually abused by Catholic priests and church workers. Here's information on the history of the abuse, legal actions taken by the survivors, and how the child abuse crimes in Alaska fits into the larger story of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.

Editors' Note: This timeline contains descriptions of sexual abuse.

Key Villages, Towns and Cities In This Timeline


Notable U.S. Catholic Clergy Abuse Settlements

  • Alaska $50 million -- In November 2007, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus settles with 110 Alaska Natives, including those in St. Michael and Stebbins.

    $10 million -- After its bankruptcy filing is approved in January 2010, the Diocese of Fairbanks agrees to pay nearly 300 victims of clergy sexual abuse. The settlement requires Bishop Kettler to apologize in person to them and also meet privately with any victim who asks. He also must read a statement from the pulpit, post a list of perpetrators, conduct a healing ceremony and pay for counseling services.

    $166.1 million -- In March 2010, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus reaches a settlement for some 524 cases of clergy sex abuse that occurred in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana. Those who file suit includes men and women who had settled with the Jesuits in November 2007, as well as additional survivors.
  • Massachusetts $85 million -- On Sept. 9, 2003, the Archdiocese of Boston agrees to pay a settlement to more than 500 victims of clergy sex abuse.

    For more on this scandal in the Boston area, watch our 2007 film Hand of God and read The Boston Globe's spotlight investigation.
  • Oregon $53 million -- The Archdiocese of Portland files for bankruptcy after paying abuse victims in July 2004. It's considered the first bankruptcy filing by a U.S. archdiocese.
  • California $660 million -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agrees to pay more than 500 victims of clergy sex abuse in July 2007.

    The Orange County Diocese reaches an undisclosed settlement with 87 victims of clergy sexual abuse in December 2004. It is thought that the payout is larger than the $85 million reached in the Boston Archdiocese settlement.
  • For more, see's detailed chart of clergy sex abuse settlements and monetary awards in U.S. civil suits.
Late 1800s

In 1867, the United States purchases Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. U.S. Catholic missionaries begin pouring into the new state.

The missionaries arrive in St. Michael and build their first mission in 1899. A church is built a year later. The village is in a remote section of Alaska, almost 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, and is not accessible by roads.

In the early 1900s, an influenza and measles epidemic known as the "Great Sickness" wipes out more than 60 percent of Alaska's Native population. After the epidemic, Jesuits make headway in converting Alaska Natives.

June 24, 1936

Father George S. Endal, S.J., arrives in Alaska and is assigned to the Holy Cross Mission in Holy Cross. He remains there for two years.

In 1938, Endal is transferred to Mountain Village and serves there until 1946, at which time he transfers to the village of Alakanuk. In 1948, he arrives in Dillingham, where he builds a school, a chapel and residences.


Father George Endal meets Joseph Lundowski sometime after 1949. There is very little known about Lundowski's past, other than the fact that he served in the Army during World War II under Gen. George Patton in North Africa, that he was briefly a Trappist monk and that he was a netsetter in Alaska.

Without church authorization, Endal names Lundowski a "Brother" and places him in charge of the boys' dormitory at the Holy Rosary Mission School in Dillingham.

Years later, a former student testifies that Endal knew about Lundowski's sexual abuse because he walked into a church room in Dillingham "where he saw Joe sucking my penis." Endal reportedly warned the then 6-year-old boy to stay away from Lundowski because it wasn't safe.


Father James E. Poole, S.J., receives his first assignment in Alaska as pastor in the Native villages of Mountain Village, Pilot Station and Marshall. Poole becomes the host of a popular Catholic radio program at KNOM in Nome and, in 1978, is named one of Alaska's hippest DJs by People magazine.


A letter is sent by Jesuit Vicar General Father John Swain to Jesuit headquarters in Rome warning about Father James Poole's penchant for keeping Alaska Native girls in his room and visiting them in their dorm rooms.

In 2004, Father Henry G. Hargreaves, S.J, who was Poole's supervisor, is asked about the letter during a deposition. He responds: "It's all hearsay. It, no one saw it first, and then it was nothing more than gossip."


Father Endal moves to Nulato. Lundowski follows him there and, according to church documents, is involved in a sexual scandal with a person who is "not a woman."


Father Jules M. Convert, a French national who served in St. Michael, Stebbins and Unalakeet, and was appointed General Superior of the Jesuits in Alaska in 1964, writes a series of letters to the Vicar General Father John E. Gurr, the bishop's principle deputy, urging the church to dismiss Joseph Lundowski as a volunteer. Convert argues that it's inappropriate for Lundowski to use the word "Brother" to describe Lundowski's station. The vicar general hints at previous problems and urges Convert to "bring the scandal to an end." Ultimately, both men seem at a loss as to what to do about this situation since neither believes he has the jurisdiction to take action against a church volunteer.

An additional letter is written to the vicar general by a senior Jesuit, stating that the church "should have gotten rid of [Lundowski] a long time ago." This letter suggests that the church knew who Lundowski was and, in some cases, had serious concerns about him.


After a three-year assignment in Hooper Bay -- where Lundowski was allowed to conduct religious services and distribute communion by Father Endal -- Endal suggests to the diocese that both he and Lundowski be sent to St. Michael. He requests that Lundowski be given the official power to distribute communion: "I feel he is very well qualified to be given this trust," Endal writes. The request is not granted at this time, and records indicate that Joseph Lundowski was never formally given the title of "deacon" by the church.

But after his arrival in St. Michael, Lundowski begins serving as a de-facto deacon, administering communion and teaching catechism. His victims say their molestations, including rape, typically occurred after Mass or catechism when Lundowski would bribe his victims with candy, money, sacramental wine, beer and the promise of better grades.

According to church documents, Lundowski's sexual predation of children "accelerated" after he and Endal were transferred.


Father Endal writes the diocese again asking for special authority for Lundowski: "… the people instinctively address him as Brother. In my nine years of association with him, I must testify that he acts the part." Bishop Robert L. Whelan grants the request for Lundowski to officially distribute communion.


Joseph Lundowski molests 12-year-old Peter "Packy" Kobuk after catechism class, performing oral sex on him in a rectory bedroom, according to Kobuk. The abuse continues for another four to five years.


A witness sees Lundowski engaging in a sex act with a 6- or 7-year-old boy. The witness, abuse survivor Ben Andrews' cousin, "raised a fuss" with the diocese, according to Andrews. The next day, "an agitated" Endal asks pilot Jerry Austin to immediately fly Lundowski to Unalakleet.


According to court records, Father James Poole begins molesting 10-year-old Elsie Boudreau. Boudreau says the abuse continues until 1984.


Father George Endal leaves the region. He molests several children in the years after Lundowski is flown out of St. Michael. Under Father Endal's watch, nearly 80 percent of the town's children -- literally an entire generation -- are molested.


Packy Kobuk decides to talk openly about his sexual abuse. He raises the issue with at least three priests and Bishop Michael J. Kaniecki. Kobuk reports: "He would just change the subject."

One priest, Father Ward Walker, later states that he reported Kobuk's allegations to the diocese. The diocese maintains there are no records of that report.

During the same year, Father Thomas P. Doyle, a canon lawyer for the Vatican embassy, writes a confidential memo to U.S. Catholic bishops. He lays out 30 known cases of abuse across the country with around 100 victims, and estimates that cost to the church could be $1 billion over 10 years.


U.S. bishops endorse a set of guidelines for handling cases of sex abuse. At the same time, Jason Berry's history of the scandal, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children estimates 400 priests have been accused of abuse, costing the church more than $400 million.


Joseph Lundowski responds to a letter written to him by one of his victims, a schizophrenic serving time in prison for rape. In the letter, the victim had described the turmoil he suffered as a result of the molestation. Lundowski writes:

"Your letter came to me as a shock and sadden [sic] me as to your condition. It goes without saying that if I am in anyway [sic] to blame for your illness, I apologize. ...

"I pray to God who relieves all illness to comfort you and to restore you to perfect health. Since I left Alaska and came [to Chicago] to work, I have accepted the Lord in a real and personal manner. … I too have suffered. Two years ago I had a heart attack with a stroke and still have limited use of my legs and arms. My prayer for myself every day is for Him to come and take me. I don't write this for sympathy, but to let you see the Lord punishes us in his own ways."


Father James Poole is sent to the Servants of Paraclete in New Mexico, a Jesuit-run psychiatric facility for troubled priests. Little is known about his whereabouts after 1994.


Joseph Lundowski dies. At the time of his death, he is a resident of the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, where he served as a nighttime switchboard operator for the radio show "Unshackled!". There is no evidence that he discussed his experience in Alaska with anyone in Chicago.

A few months later, Father George Endal dies while a resident of the Pioneers Home, a church facility in Anchorage. His career with the Catholic Church in Alaska spanned 60 years.


St. Michael sexual abuse survivor Tommy Cheemuk's brother, John "Dunny" Cheemuk, commits suicide. Tommy believes his brother's death is to due the molestations.


Former Anchorage prosecutor Ken Roosa signs his first client in Alaska's sexual abuse scandal.

April 2002

Pope John Paul II summons America's cardinals to the Vatican to discuss the growing sex scandal in the church. He states: "The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society: it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God."

Read more about this meeting and the events surrounding it on the PBS NewsHour's website.

June 2002
Father Donald Kettler

Pope John Paul II appoints Father Donald Kettler as the fourth bishop of Fairbanks. He is the first non-Jesuit to head the diocese; before his appointment he was a parish priest who performed a regular televised mass in South Dakota.

At their annual general meeting in Dallas, U.S. bishops approve a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" [PDF], calling for zero tolerance for child sexual abuse by clergy. They also authorize an investigation by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice into sexual abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church. It becomes known as the "John Jay Report" and is released in 2004. The research reveals that, "of the 195 dioceses and eparchies that participated in the study, all but seven have reported that allegations of sexual abuse of youths under the age of 18 have been made against at least one priest serving in ecclesiastical ministry in that diocese or eparch."

July 2002

Pope John Paul II speaks publicly for the first time about the sex scandals during an outdoor mass concluding World Youth Day in Toronto. He tells a crowd of more than 800,000 Catholics that the harmful actions of some "fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame."

June 2003

The first Alaska clergy sexual abuse lawsuit is filed against the Diocese of Fairbanks after the parties are unable to reach a settlement. The claimants are six men from St. Mary's who say they were abused by Father Jules Convert. In the end, Convert has 35 sexual abuse claims against him -- more than any other priest in the Diocese of Fairbanks.

August 2003

CBS News obtains a confidential Vatican document [PDF], written in 1962, that lays out a church policy on sexual abuse by priests. The document calls for absolute secrecy when it comes to these cases, warning that anyone who speaks out could be thrown out of the church. The U.S. Conference of Bishops issues a statement saying that the document is being taken out of context.

November 2003

Father James Poole is sent to live in a Jesuit retirement home in Spokane, Wash., where he still lives today.

March 2004

Elsie Boudreau files the first civil complaint against Father James Poole using the pseudonym "Jane Doe 1." It states that "Father Poole committed hundreds of acts of molestation upon Jane Doe including, but not limited to: touching and fondling her body; kissing and tongue kissing; and having her lie atop him in a manner simulating sexual acts."

June 2004

Attorney Ken Roosa and legal consultant Patrick Wall visit St. Michael and Stebbins to hear from victims of clergy sex abuse. This is the first time Roosa hears testimony about Joseph Lundowski, and he agrees to take their case.

September 2004
ppole Depostion

Rev. Jim Poole testifies about accusations that he sexually molested children in a deposition. He admits to "French-kissing" Elsie Boudreau but denies that he did it in a sexual way.

November 2004
Lawsuit Header

Twenty-eight men in Alaska file a suit against the Jesuits claiming that Joseph Lundowski sexually abused them. During the following years, more and more claimants come forward. Their attorney, Ken Roosa, describes how it happened:

"… after we first began filing lawsuits and expanded the number of molesters that we were suing, 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, because each person believed they were the only one until they found out somebody had made a complaint against their perpetrator and then they would go, 'Wow, I'm not the only one.'"
March 2005
Elsie Boudreau

Elsie Boudreau publicly reveals her identity just prior to the finalized settlement of her lawsuit against Rev. Jim Poole. She states, "Not using my name just continued the secrecy of abuse."

Her settlement is announced on April 4, 2005; she receives a combined $1 million from the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks and the Oregon Province of the Society Jesus, the Jesuit group that includes Alaska.

September 2005

Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had just been named Pope Benedict XVI, is granted immunity from prosecution in U.S. sex abuse cases by the Justice Department.

November 2007

The Oregon Province of the Society Jesus settles with 110 Alaska Natives, including those in St. Michael and Stebbins, for $50 million. The settlement covers claims against Convert, Hargreaves, Lundowski, Endal and other Alaska priests.

March 2008

The Diocese of Fairbanks files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and begins an assessment of assets and liabilities.

February 2009

The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. None of the Jesuit-sponsored university assets are included in the filing. Seattle University and Gonzaga University are the most important and economically-viable assets to the province, and separating them out reduces the assets that can be claimed.

For more on the bankruptcy filings, read our interviews with attorney Ken Roosa and Bishop Donald Kettler. Roosa claims that "both of these institutions have sought refuge in the bankruptcy process," while Bishop Kettler claims that "being a missionary diocese, we did not have a lot of financial resources."

January 2010
Bishop and Ben

The Diocese of Fairbanks bankruptcy settlement is approved. The diocese agrees to pay victims $10 million. The non-monetary section of the settlement requires the bishop to personally apologize to the nearly 300 victims. It also stipulates that the bishop meets privately with any victim who asks, read a statement from the pulpit, post a list of perpetrators, conduct a healing ceremony and pay for counseling services.

Chapter 3 of The Silence focuses on Bishop Donald Kettler's visit to St. Michael in December 2010 to apologize to survivors. You can read Bishop Kettler's thoughts about and reaction to the visit here:

"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 you know, we can never do enough to make up for what's happened to them personally. "
Dec. 20, 2010

In a speech to Vatican cardinals and bishops, Pope Benedict XVI claims secular society is to blame for the clergy's abuse of children in the form of "child pornography, sexual tourism and the moral relativism of the 1970s."

March 25, 2011

The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus reaches a settlement of $166.1 million for approximately 524 cases of clergy sexual abuse. The states represented in the settlement are Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana. The victims who filed suit include both men and women who settled with the Jesuits in November 2007, as well as additional survivors.

Sources: Alaskana Catholica: A History of the Catholic Church in Alaska (2005); "Missionary's Dark Legacy" (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19, 2005); "Faith Betrayed" (KTUU News, January 2005); "The 'Pedophile's Paradise'" (The Stranger, February 2009).


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Posted April 19, 2011; updated April 20, 2011

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