Clergy Abuse In Montana Boarding Schools & Reservations
A new Jesuit report highlights a pattern of priest shuffling in Montana. Abusive Jesuits were often assigned to rural Native American reservations and boarding schools.
In December 2018, a Jesuit order released a document highlighting child sexual abuse in its ranks. The Jesuits West Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits West) — a Catholic religious order — released a detailed list. This list publicly named dozens of priests and brothers credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Many of these abusive clergy members were assigned to Native American reservations and associated boarding schools.
Unlike some lists released by Catholic dioceses, this list includes the employment histories of the accused. In this case, the employment histories show a unique aspect of clergy abuse in Montana. Catholic church leaders in Montana regularly engaged in what is known as “priest shuffling.”
Priest shuffling is the act of moving abusive priests from one assignment to another. Church leaders engaged in this practice to reduce scandal and protect the reputation of the Catholic Church.
However, priest shuffling protected abusive priests from criminal prosecution. It also allowed abusive priests to continue preying on victims.
In Montana, abusive priests were often transferred to assignments on Native American reservations. This practice further endangered an already vulnerable American minority group.
The Jesuit Report Names Dozens Of Abusive Priests In Montana
In an effort for transparency, the Jesuits West released a list of Jesuits accused of child sex abuse. The list dates back to abuse that occurred in the 1950s.
Some clergy members on the list were previously identified in bankruptcy documents filed by dioceses in the region. Out of 111 names, 31 of the credibly abusive Jesuits worked in Montana. According to the work histories, many of these priests worked in multiple locations in the state.
Much of the abuse documented by the list took place on Native American reservations. Jesuits typically staffed Catholic parishes or schools on Native American reservations. But, these reservations soon became the opportune place to hide abusive priests.
Abusive Priests Often Assigned To Native American Reservations
In Montana and across the Pacific Northwest, abusive priests were often assigned to Native American reservations. It was so common, some people refer to these reservations as “dumping grounds” for sexually abusive clergy.
Montana reservations served as frequent dumping grounds for abusive priests because:
- Reservations in Montana are typically located in remote, rural communities. For perspective, Montana is the country’s fourth-largest state. But, it ranks ninth on the list of least populated states.
- A significant power imbalance existed between Native Americans and priests in these communities. Because of this, victims were less inclined to report abuse.
Sexual abuse also took place within Catholic boarding schools and day schools on reservations.
Abuse At St. Ignatius Mission School
The St. Ignatius Mission School is located in St. Ignatius, Montana. It is one of many boarding schools in the region where Native American children were forced to live. Catholic nuns, priests and Jesuits ran the school.
Many of the abusive priests on the Jesuits West list spent time at the St. Ignatius Mission School. Children were subjected to abusive acts of all kinds, including sexual abuse at St. Ignatius Mission School.
In 2011, 45 former students sued the school for physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Justice For Montana Clergy Abuse Victims
Nothing can repair the damage caused by these abusive Jesuits. However, some survivors have found solace from the litigation process and compensation. There have been several significant settlements and compensation opportunities for Montana victims. The most notable settlements include:
- In 2009, the Oregon Province of the Jesuits paid $166,100,000 to more than 500 victims of clergy abuse as part of a bankruptcy settlement. The Oregon Province of the Jesuits is now part of Jesuits West Province.
- In 2014, the Helena Diocese paid $21,000,000 to more than 300 victims as part of a bankruptcy settlement.
- In 2017, the Great Falls-Billings Diocese paid $20,000,000 to 86 victims in a bankruptcy settlement.
Bixler, K., Dansie, Z., Haynes, M. (2018, December 10). The Incarcerated Child and St. Ignatius Mission Schools. Medium.
Corrigan, T. (2015, March 4). Helena, Montana Roman Catholic Diocese Settles Abuse Claims. The Wall Street Journal.
Denson, B. (2011, March 25). Northwest Jesuits will pay $166 million to sex abuse victims in bankruptcy settlement. The Oregonian.
Hoffman, M. (2018, December 7). Dozens of Montana priests accused of sex abuse were moved to new posts, report shows. Billings Gazette.
Jesuits West Province. (Updated 2020, July). List of Jesuits from Jesuits West Province with Credible Claims of Sexual Abuse of a Minor or Vulnerable Adult.
Larson, S. (2017, August 16). Montana reservations reportedly ‘dumping grounds’ for predatory priests. Great Falls Tribune.
Larson, S. (2018, April 27). Great Falls-Billings Catholic Diocese reaches settlement with sex abuse victims for $20 million. Great Falls Tribune.
Santarosa, S. (2018, December 7). Jesuits West Releases Names of Jesuits Credibly Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Minor or Vulnerable Adult Since 1950. Jesuits West Province.
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