The Missoulian - Montana June 5, 2011
Anguish has never healed for Natives physically, sexually abused at St. Ignatius mission
By GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian
ST. IGNATIUS - The small brick mission is a jewel, stunning in its setting at the foot of the Mission Mountains.
"I want to be here," says Garry "Bob" Salois, "the day an earthquake brings this place down."
Its 58 striking frescoes, painted by an Italian Jesuit who was self-taught, include a life-size image of St. George slaying a dragon with a hideous human face.
"The dragon's face," says Francis "Franny" Burke, "should be Mother Loyola."
The church has been a focal point of religious life in the Mission Valley since the 1830s, when the local Salish tribe sent repeated delegations to St. Louis, asking that the Jesuit "black robes" establish a mission here.
"People hate us belittling our town and our church," says Leland "Jimi" Hewankorn, "but they don't know what hell we went through."
Salois, Burke and Hewankorn are among some 500 people - nearly all of them Native American or Alaskan Native - who prevailed in a $166.1 million bankruptcy reorganization against the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, better known as Jesuits.
Claimants reported abuse either by Jesuit priests or nuns under Jesuit supervision, starting in the 1950s at boarding schools and parishes on remote reservations and tiny, far-flung villages around the Northwest and Alaska. The Oregon Province covers Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
The settlement, announced in March, is the largest against a Catholic religious order and one of the biggest involving abuse by Catholic clergy.
For the past several weeks, claims adjudicators have been verifying accusations. Last week, ballots went out to claimants, who have until June 30 to approve the reorganization plan.
In August or September, those victims - many of them approaching old age - should start receiving large cash settlements for the anguish inflicted upon them as children.
A half-century after the abuse began, Salois, Hewankorn and Burke say that anguish lingers.
"For over 50 years, those guys have messed up my head, the way that I think," said Salois. "It's like they stole my whole damn life."
The three men, now in their late 50s, said they still avoid the St. Ignatius mission church.
But recently they returned to tell their story, lingering uncomfortably outside before going in, pointing out where the dormitory and other mission buildings, now long gone, once stood.
"The only thing left is the church," said Burke.
"And," added Salois, "the bad memories."
They never wanted to go to the school. They didn't have a choice.
"My mom said they threatened to put her in jail if they didn't send me," Burke said.
They arrived speaking little English. They learned some words fast.
And to Salois, who is Salish-Cree and French - "a little, redheaded, chubby, good-looking half-breed," he described himself - "You aren't even a real Indian. You look like a white guy."
This, they said, from a woman who supposedly was "civilizing" them.
Mother Loyola was the Ursuline nun in charge of the boys' section of the boarding school.
"A big woman," Hewankorn recalled.
"German," said Burke. Salois' older brother, also at the school, theorized that she was a Nazi war criminal hiding within a nun's habit.
"We thought she was a man," Burke said. "We used to peek through the keyhole to see."
Later, said Salois, "we found out she wasn't. The hard way."
Most of the sexual abuse cases against the Catholic church involve priests.
Of nearly 3,500 accused Catholic religious leaders whose names have been released, only 82 - about 2 percent - are nuns, according to Bishop Accountability, a group that tracks church sexual abuse cases.
An extensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released last month, focuses solely on priests. (One of its conclusions, tying the incidence of abuse to more permissive social mores of the 1960s, has been widely criticized.)
"People don't believe females are capable of abusing, and they surely don't think these good nuns would abuse," said Steve Theisen, director of the Iowa chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. As the group's name indicates, abuse by nuns is so little recognized that there's not even a support group for its victims - who include Theisen.
"It's really one of the last taboos to try to break," he said.
In the Northwest Jesuits case, the Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala law firm of Seattle crunched numbers of the accused and the allegations against them, and came up with a list of the Top 10 worst offenders.
St. Ignatius' Mother Loyola is No. 7 on a list that includes Father Augustine J. "Freddy" Feretti and Brother Rene "Charlie" Gallant, both of whom also served at the St. Ignatius mission.
"The focus has certainly been the priests, but the nuns play a real interesting role. ... We see a lot of complicity by the nuns in the priest abuse," said attorney Michael Pfau.
Sister Francis Xavier, the archivist at the Ursuline Centre in Great Falls, knew Mother Loyola personally and remembers her reputation as a "rather severe disciplinarian." But she dismissed as rumor the possibility that Mother Loyola strayed into sexual abuse. "She may have - we used to call it spanking. But fondling is something I find hard to believe," she said.
That's a common reaction to accusations of abuse by women, said Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law in Yakima, Wash., which represents about 90 of the people in the Northwest Jesuit case. The Tamaki clients, who include Salois, Hewankorn and Burke, make up the largest group of those in the lower 48 states.
"It was shocking for me to hear" the allegations about Mother Loyola, said Smith, who took depositions from many of the claimants.
"It wasn't until I heard multiple accounts that were remarkably similar from people who didn't know each other that I started to realize, ‘This is real stuff that was happening.' "
The accounts were similar and so were the victims, at least during the late 1950s and early 1960s in St. Ignatius.
"I think they looked everybody over and picked on the ones that didn't talk English," Burke said. "The ones who came from traditional families," added Salois.
The three fit the bill. Burke and Hewankorn spoke mostly Kootenai, Salois a mixture of Salish and Cree. Besides, they were boarding students. Unlike the "day scholars" who went back to their families at night, the boys were far from their homes on the reservation's northern border. (The boarding program closed in 1962.)
Their heads were shaved. Verbal abuse escalated to physical, meted out for supposed infractions - say, speaking their own language.
"We'd have to pull down our pants to our ankles and get hit with a 2-by-4," said Hewankorn. "And also hold out our hands, palms up, and get hit with a 2-by-4. I always wondered how they could be so mean."
Strict regimens forbade little kids from getting up in the middle of the night. If a boy wet his bed, said Salois, he would be forced to stand with the soaked sheets draped over him until they dried, then wash the sheets and stand again, ghostlike beneath them, until the clean sheets dried.
Separately, they ran away. When he was in second grade, Hewankorn made it to Elmo, more than 40 miles away, before police brought him back. Burke got as far as a barn, visible from the dorm, and realized he'd never make it home to Elmo. He sneaked back, but was found out, and his head shaven anew as punishment. Salois ran repeatedly. "I was always bald," he said.
Physical abuse turned sexual.
When the Rev. Joseph Balfe asked Burke to assist him with Mass, Burke went to the sacristy, only to be confronted with Balfe standing naked. During confession, Balfe asked Hewankorn what bed he slept in.
"They looked at us like we were animals. Like we were their playthings," said Burke.
They quickly learned to hide when Mother Loyola came around, looking for a boy to help a priest with "chores."
But at night, when she came into the dormitory, there was nowhere to go, they said.
"I'd see Mother Loyola go to different beds," Hewankorn said.
"She'd put her hand over your mouth," said Salois. "Grab you by the ear and take you back to her room" for sex.
Another nun, elderly, would coax boys onto her lap and force their heads to her bared chest.
"Sister John was a pervert, but she was senile," Salois said. "She tried to breast-feed you and say, ‘My poor baby.' But at least you'd get a hug and not get hurt."
They tried to tell, they said. As youngsters, they wrote a letter to the bishop in Helena, and even to the Pope.
"We complained about how we were being treated. ... We said, ‘Come and save us,' " Burke said.
"I guess that letter never made it."
The settlement could bring as much as a half-million dollars to some victims, depending upon the length and severity of the abuse.
So what, said Hewankorn. "All that money, they could give it all to me and it still wouldn't be enough for the abuse that I went through."
Money won't make up for his shattered life, his three marriages, he said. "I can't hold onto relationships," he said. He is immersed in "shame, shame."
Salois tried three times to kill himself, once before he was a teenager.
"I turned violent, into a drug addict and an alcoholic," said Salois, who has "L-O-V-E" tattooed on the four fingers of one hand and "H-A-T-E" on the other.
He said he got into the habit, for a while, of going into Catholic churches and waiting until Mass was over before confronting the priest.
"I'd yell at him, cuff him a couple of times. Ask them why they did it."
Burke likewise drank and drugged through years of his life. He said he's been sober 10 years now. He's only recently begun to discuss his childhood with his grown children. "They saw me cry," he said.
But until last month, the only times he'd been inside the St. Ignatius church since third grade involved mandatory events like wakes or funerals.
"My knees are shaking," he said. "It's really hard. You know, this is supposed to be a good place."
He paced past the murals, barely looking at them. He, like the others, turned his back on Catholicism as a little boy, and never looked back. None of his eight children is baptized.
"I feel like I'm lost," he said. "I don't know my heritage. I can't speak English very good, and I can't speak my own language."
Salois also refused to baptize his children and won't allow his grandchildren to be baptized. "It took me 40 years to separate the Catholic religion and belief in God," said Salois, who despite his palpable anger took off his cap when he entered St. Ignatius church. "I believe there's got to be a creator of all things. But if Jesus Christ and his bunch are a true religion, he's forsaken me a long time ago."
Hewankorn has worked to reclaim his tribal heritage, turning to traditional ways.
"I don't go to church no more," he said. "I confess to Him only. I don't confess to a human being."
The men said they're waiting for something more valuable than money.
"I got over being angry," Burke said. "But I want an apology. Not for myself, but the whole Indian race."
Salois hopes the Rev. Patrick Lee, the leader of the Oregon Province, comes to St. Ignatius to apologize in person - although at the thought, his anger flashed anew.
"I'd tell him, I don't accept your apologies. It's too damn late," he said. But a moment later, he added, "I'd go and see what kind of apology he gives. If it's a real one, I'll accept it. But if it's one of their old phonies, I'll spit in his face and go away."
And Hewankorn wants to ask the old, unanswerable question.
"Why? Why did you do that to us?"
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio @missoulian.com or CopsAndCourts.com.
By GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian
ST. IGNATIUS - The recent $166.1 million settlement for people who were sexually abused in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations and Alaskan villages made international headlines.
But here, where so much of the abuse occurred, the silence surrounding the case is as cold and deep as the stubbornly lingering snow on the Mission Mountains.
That's partly a measure of time: The settlement plan covers a half-century of abuse. What's news to the larger world is business as depressingly usual to people who've been living with the effects of that abuse for decades, said Jera Stewart, clinical supervisor and neuropsychologist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
It's partly a measure of legality: The 500 claimants involved in the settlement must vote to approve it and the votes won't be tallied until July. Until then, said the Rev. Andrew Maddock of the St. Ignatius Church, he can't address the issue specifically with parishioners. "I've just talked about (the fact) that we need to heal."
And it's partly an unfathomable measure of pain: "You're talking about layers of trauma that happened over generations," said Salish educator Julie Cajune.
Genocide. Dislocation. Cultural obliteration. Children kidnapped into boarding schools. And, as is now being widely revealed, the extensive sexual abuse of those children.
"That this kind of violence happened to children, the worst kind of violence ... ," Cajune said. "It's such a horrific thing that people don't want to talk about it."
The bankruptcy settlement against the Northwest Jesuits will - if approved - do everything possible to make sure that the 500-some claimants can get help for many years hence without having to talk publicly about it, even as the religious order takes public responsibility.
About $6.5 million of the $166.1 million paid by the Jesuits and their insurers would be set aside to fund future claims, as people continue to come forward about sexual assaults experienced decades ago, said Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law, the Yakima, Wash., firm that represents the largest number of claimants in the Lower 48 states in the Northwest Jesuits case. That money would be available until it ran out.
Still, payments averaging about $300,000 could go to those whose claims already have been verified by adjudicators after the settlement was announced in late March, Smith said. Nearly all of the claimants are Native American or Alaskan Native.
"That significant sum of money is paid to acknowledge wrongdoing," said Blaine Tamaki. "They are apologizing for their abuse."
Francis "Franny" Burke, 58, of Elmo, is one of the people represented by Tamaki's firm.
"Speaking for all the Indian people involved with these priests, we would like an apology. That would be nice," said Burke. "But something that could really help the Indian people out is to help restore the culture and language."
As in other boarding schools around Indian Country, the last of which closed in 1968, students in the St. Ignatius school had their hair shorn and were punished if they spoke their own languages or practiced their traditions. The result was generations who feel, as Burke said, lost in an uneasy world between the two cultures.
The settlement doesn't address that issue. Perhaps it never could. But it does include several provisions designed to provide the accountability and apology many victims say they badly want.
• For the next decade, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Northwest Jesuits, must post on its website's home page the names of all its members verified as perpetrators.
• For the next two years, the website must provide a place for victims who want to tell their stories.
• The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, who heads the province, will send personally signed letters of apology to all the claimants, stating that the abuse wasn't their fault, and that the province takes responsibility.
• During the next five years, Lee will travel to Anchorage, Seattle, Spokane and other places for private conferences with people who were abused.
• The Northwest Jesuits cannot refer to those who were abused as "alleged" claimants, victims or survivors.
• And, Lee will post on the website, and place ads in regional publications including the Missoulian, "a statement of gratitude for the survivors of sexual abuse who have had the courage to speak about the sexual abuse they endured and continue to live with every day."
Along with "alleged," Cajune would prefer to get rid of the word "victims," too.
"I think it's important to see Indian people as actors and not victims," she said.
Take those who endured the abuse by Jesuit priests, as well as nuns who worked under their supervision, in Jesuit missions and schools on Indian reservations around the Northwest and in Alaskan Native villages. The Oregon Province covers Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
"It's a very brave and courageous act of resistance for these people to come out and do this," Cajune said. "It's not going to be popular."
In addition to the general squeamishness regarding public discussion of sexual abuse, there's the fact that the St. Ignatius mission - home to some of the most egregious abusers - is also a revered institution for many in the community, said Stewart, who works for the tribal health program in St. Ignatius.
"The church is still a force that people use," said Stewart. After all, she said, only a few people among the mission's religious leaders were abusers.
Most, she said, "are healers. People go there all the time for confession and absolution and to get some help."
Indeed, Josephine Paul Quequesah, who is 74, said that while revelations about abuse at the boarding school her older sister attended surprised and saddened her, she remains a devout Catholic and volunteers at the church as a Eucharistic minister.
"All my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren are baptized," said Quequesah, a member of the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee, whose offices are near the church.
"I don't think they need to do it," she said of the lawsuits.
Leland "Jimi" Hewankorn, 59, said he heard similar remarks from friends and family members critical of his decision to join the legal action against the Northwest Jesuits.
And he knows people who also were abused, but who have kept silent.
"I'm speaking for a lot of people who are afraid to speak out," Hewankorn said.
The Northwest Jesuits' website - not its home page, but in the "contact" section - provides a confidential number for people to report sexual abuse by a Jesuit, or get information on counseling if they've suffered abuse.
In St. Ignatius, Stewart said that Tribal Health offers counseling to both people who have been abused and to abusers, although no program specifically addresses those involved in the Jesuit case. Publicity about that case can be helpful for people who've suffered in silence for years, believing themselves alone in their experience, she said.
"Even if they're not speaking out, they can experience healing vicariously," she said.
Dixie Trahan Brabender of Ronan, one of the first to publicly come forward in the case against the Northwest Jesuits, wanted to provide a safe place for such people.
The 56-year-old Ronan resident, who is not a trained counselor, started a support group in her home for other abuse survivors. But it fell apart after just a few meetings, she said.
"It's still hard to talk about it," she said. "They stole something from us. They stole our innocence from us."
She said she'd revive the group if people wanted.
And groups like SNAP - Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - also offer support.
For all the considerable resources, financial and emotional, provided by the settlement, it lacks the one thing some survivors wish they'd seen: personal accountability by the priests and nuns who abused them.
But criminal charges in such cases are nearly impossible, said Smith of Tamaki Law, both because the statute of limitations has passed in many cases, and because most of the perpetrators have died.
For instance, the Rev. Augustine J. "Father Freddy" Feretti, named by victims in St. Ignatius and Idaho, died in 1982. Mother Loyola, an Ursuline nun who was a prefect at the boarding school in St. Ignatius, went from there to a mission in the Yukon before returning to the Ursuline Centre in Great Falls, where she died, said Sister Francis Xavier, the center's archivist. Both of Mother Loyola's legs were amputated before her death, said Sister Francis, who knew Mother Loyola.
"She had a very, very hard death, "she said. "She suffered a lot."
Cajune said that in Lame Deer, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southern Montana, elders speak of the people who survived the genocide as heroic. She suggested the same term might be applied to those taking the Jesuits to task about their abuse.
It won't undo the damage.
Most of the abusers got away.
And there will always be naysayers.
But the Northwest Jesuits can't act as though it never happened, because those who suffered fought back.
Now the world knows what was done to them.
"We stood up to some powerful people," Franny Burke said, "and I feel good about that."
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org, or CopsAndCourts.com.
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