Database shows history of abusive Jesuit priests on tribal lands


Editor’s note: This story contains data relating to sexual assault and misconduct against minors and adults.

Many Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse worked in tribal communities, including dozens in the Mountain West, a new database reveals.

Over the past 70 years, 96 priests in the Jesuit Western Province of the Society of Jesus have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. Almost half of them – 47 priests – have spent time on tribal lands.

It is according to a database called “Desolate Country: Mapping Catholic Sex Abuse in Native America,” which a pair of researchers constructed from the Catholic Church’s own list of “credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult” by of priests and brothers in much of the West dating back to 1950.

Kathleen Holscher, associate professor of religious studies and American studies at the University of New Mexico, is one of the researchers who worked on the project. The other is Jack Downey, associate professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York.

Holscher says the data supports claims that known abusive priests were often sent to tribal communities.

“Native missions were places where the Catholic Church dumped priests it knew were trouble,” Holscher said. “Because they knew if they put them on a Native mission, no one would complain, or if people complained, no one would listen to them.”

In Idaho, for example, five Jesuit priests have been charged with sexual misconduct on the Coeur d’Alene reservation (Mission of the Sacred Heart) and another on the Nez Perce reservation (Church of the Sacred Heart), according to the database.

In Montana, four different reservations suffered from abusive Jesuit priests, including six on the Flathead Indian Reservation (St. Ignatius Mission), three on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (St. Paul Mission), and one on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation (St. . St. Anne’s Church). On the Crow Indian Reservation, abuse complaints have been filed against priests at three different institutions, including two at St. Xavier’s Mission and one at St. Charles’ Mission and St. Joseph’s Church.

Some of these sexual abuse complaints were part of the North West Jesuit Complaint. $166 million settlement with victims in 2011.

The database allows users to track how priests moved through the church – before, during and after accusations of abuse.

Holscher and Downey also found examples of priests who were never accused of abuse while working in white communities, but were accused of taking advantage of native children.

Describing the database on its website, the two researchers warned that it was provided by a biased Catholic institution.

“In that spirit, we present ‘Desolate Country’ both as an abuse tracking tool and as an artifact of the problems inherent in all abuse-related institutional Catholic archives,” they wrote.

The data did not include Colorado, New Mexico or Wyoming.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana , KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the public broadcasting company.

The photo included in this story is licensed Wikimedia Commons.


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