In its 2021 report titled, “The University Commission on Gonzaga’s Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis,” the Jesuit-affiliated university described its newfound respect for survivors of sexual assault committed by priests. It proclaims that “reconciliation” with victims of clergy sex abuse “is only made possible with the establishment of justice, which requires actively seeking to dismantle systems of domination, abuse, and harm and building up new systems in their place.” It further opines that, “those who have been sexually abused and the broader communities harmed by such abuse are among those whose dignity has been violated,” and that “walking with those whose dignity has been violated requires action.”
Action. As a recent visitor to Gonzaga University and Saint Aloysius Catholic Church on its campus, I wonder if that might include publicly praying for predator priests who decimated Alaska Native children, perhaps not expecting a visit from an Alaskan.
I recently visited Gonzaga University to invite local clergy and faculty in the Religious Studies Department to a book reading from my recently published book, “The Book of Timothy: The Devil, My Brother, and Me.” This memoir explores what is left of a faith life after the church’s clergy sex abuse scandal hit way too close to my brother in our childhood home. After making a short round of introductions, I decided to enter St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church on the university campus for a moment of silence and reflection. As a person who still tries to cling to her faith, the only way I can return to a Catholic Church is when it is empty.
While the church was empty, its book of prayers for the dead, kept under the bust of the Virgin Mary, was not. Listed in two long columns were the names of many Jesuit priests and brothers.
The first name I saw — Jim Poole, S.J. — shocked me. Poole created a 40-year reign of terror while “serving” in the Western Alaska communities like Nome, St. Mary’s and Pilot Station. According to BishopAccountability.org and the Jesuit West’s own report, Poole is credibly accused of sexually assaulting at least seven children. He picked his favorites out of the girls’ dormitory at St. Mary’s Mission Boarding School and brought them to his bedroom. In other venues, he used the confessional to commit his crimes. His youngest victim was six when he raped her.
Poole’s soul was not the only predator prayed for. Father Harry Hergreave’s name was there too. Hergreaves is credibly accused of sexually assaulting a number of boys in small Alaska villages. His youngest victim was five. Present as well was Father James Jacobson’s name. The Jesuits found him credibly accused of sexual assault of a minor and the rape of a 16-year-old girl. He also fathered four children in Alaska, leaving all of them without support.
Again by its own report, the Jesuits unleashed 31 sexual predators onto the shores of my home state’s Bering and Beaufort seas and into villages and homes of the First Nation Inupiaq and Yup’ik people. In Spokane, the faculty, priests and parishioners of St. Aloysius publicly pray for those predators. They also pray for priests, such as Joseph Obersinner, Joseph Balfe and Gordon Keyes, who did to the children of Colville Indian Reservation in central Washington or the Saint Ignatius Mission School in central Montana what Poole, Hergreaves and Jacobsen did to the Native children of Alaska.
In keeping with Gonzaga’s newly stated desire to walk with those whose dignity has been violated, I would highly recommend that the university recognize that Alaskans not only attend Gonzaga, but visit it as well. I would also highly recommend that they remove its tribute to child predators from viewing altogether and publicly pray for the victims and survivors of clergy abuse instead. I have a few names I could give them, including my own.
Joan Nockels Wilson is the author of “The Book of Timothy: The Devil, My Brother, and Me” (Red Hen). She is a former prosecutor and still-practicing attorney in Anchorage, Alaska.
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