HAYS – For decades, even lifetimes, the Catholic Church refused to turn in priests with known pasts of sexually abusing children, women and men. The story is known in as many corners of the world as the Catholic Church exists, including Montana’s two dioceses.
Hundreds of victims have come forward with stories of abuse from Catholic clergy. Estimates of others victimized may remain faceless and unaccounted following the settlement of the lawsuit.
In the Pacific Northwest, however, the Catholic Church and the Jesuit Order have been accused of using Indian Reservations as their “dumping grounds” for the worst recidivist priests accused of sexually abusing children throughout the 1900s. Here, church officials reportedly determined predatory priests could remain undetected. Here, the church that acted as an anchor for the communities, and the victims lived with the abuse in silence.
Attorney Vito de la Cruz said Montana reservations were no different: They were the church’s rural and remote sites for hiding predatory priests. Cruz’s Seattle law firm has represented victims from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, and he said the systematic issue is told from church documents revealed in cases already settled, and the active one against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese.
“I think the evidence points to that,” Cruz told the Tribune. “Those who had problems in respect to abusing kids, it’s easy to hide in the reservations; people won’t complain much, it’s isolated there, and there are massively disproportionate balances of power.”
In the case against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese, a majority of those who have come forward with names and locations were allegedly abused on the remote Indian reservations. Off the reservations, victims who have come forward came largely from the former Catholic orphanage in Great Falls, two parishes in Billings and far flung communities in eastern Montana.
In many instances, the church has boosted conditions in reservation towns, but with the past practice of splitting Indian children from their parents to boarding schools often operated by the church, the history of Catholicism on the Montana reservations is complicated at best. Fort Belknap Tribal President Mark Azure previously knew about the abuse by priests, but was furious to learn of the church’s designs to continuously funnel bad priests to the reservation during the 1900s, a recently added layer to a complicated history.
“What the hell is a church if it’s going to allow this to happen?” he asked, then thought of the victims. “For me to hear it is a shock. And for their ability to keep it within themselves for as long as they have leads us to their alcoholism, whatever abuses they were — did they become abusers themselves? This could be the very reason why.”
“One of the biggest criticisms of the church has been that they would do this kind of shuffling routinely until they reached the rope’s end,” Cruz said. “It was proved definitively that the dioceses were moving these folks around with no regard to the community… Then we had the reservations where we had people who were probably not the brightest stars in the whole church structure who were sent there.”
To read the full article in the Great Falls Tribune, click here.