Fairbanks, Alaska -- Dozens of men claim that a deacon or lay volunteer sexually abused and raped them for years in western Alaska villages.
The Diocese of Fairbanks has responded to the allegations, but in doing so, Bishop Donald Kettler may raise more questions than answers about what may have happened to these young boys years ago.
As wave upon wave of accusations pound the Catholic Church in Alaska, nightmares of sexual abuse churn in the minds of men from Stebbins, St. Michael and Hooper Bay. After years of silence, the tide has turned. They are ready to speak out against Joseph Lundowksi.
Peter Kobuk is one of 33 men suing the Northern Bishop of Alaska, the Oregon Province of Jesuits and the Society of Jesus - Alaska.
"I only told a Catholic because I wanted a Catholic to fix it themselves and come forward themselves and say, yes, Joseph Lundowski was molester," says Peter Kobuk, who is James Doe 18 in the lawsuit.
Kobuk says the church ignored him. "Some were saying I was hurting Father Endal's soul, and they were saying I was scandaling the Catholic Church."
According to the lawsuit, Father George Endal, a Jesuit priest who served in Dillingham, recruited Lundowski (right) as a worker in the early 1960s, placing him in charge of the boys dormitory at the Holy Rosary Mission School. When Endal went to Nulato, Lundowski followed.
The lawsuit claims Endal and his own superior bishop, Francis Gleeson, knew what was happening and did nothing.
"Did they know that Lundowski was a molester? Absolutely. They absolutely knew that there was a big problem with Joseph Lundowski," says Ken Roosa, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit is the largest clergy abuse case levied against the Catholic Church in Alaska. Roosa says Endal and Gleeson both knew about the abuse and instead of getting rid of Lundowski, Roosa says they moved him from village to village.
"I guess what shakes me to my core about the Lundowski case is the number of victims, the number of acts of abuse, the blatancy of his conduct and the fact that it went on for years and years and years," Roosa says.
At least 15 years, according to Roosa. He points to letters written between church leaders as proof they knew about Lundowski's behavior.
In one letter dated Sept. 25, 1965, Father Jack Gurr refers to a Brother "Joe" as Endal's boy. He writes to Mission Superior Jules Convert, "can't see why the Mission Superior cannot give guidance to ours on such matters. What would you do if it involved a woman?"
Convert writes back on Oct. 6, 1965, "I happen to know he's (Brother Joe) a possible cause of trouble, so I refer him and the case to the proper authorities."
The proper authorities would have been leaders at the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, and the Diocese of Fairbanks. There is no evidence Convert ever reported anything.
Convert himself is now accused by 18 men of sexually abusing them as children -- the second-largest clergy sex abuse lawsuit in Alaska.
Convert and Endal are dead. Jack Gurr could not be found. That leaves the current Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska to respond to the accusations. "I was completely surprised," says Bishop Donald Kettler. "I did not know anything about this. I didn't know who this gentleman was."
Bishop Kettler came to Alaska two years ago, and says, when the Lundowski lawsuit was filed, records were searched. They found a picture of Lundowski in the summer of 1975 Alaskan Shepherd newsletter.
"There was some indication that he was interested in a deaconate," Kettler says. But he says Lundowski was never a deacon or brother and never an employee of the Catholic Church -- just a volunteer. And Father Patrick Ford with the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, says there is no record of Lundowski anywhere in their records.
As for allegations that church leaders knew about the abuse, Bishop Kettler says, "there's nothing that we have found that would indicate that Lundowski sexually abused any children. Nothing that we've found."
He says there is nothing to substantiate Peter Kobuk's claim that he told church leaders about the abuse -- even though former Priest Ward Walker, now living in Gambell, says Kobuk did report the abuse to him four years ago.
Kobuk says that was around the same time church leaders came to St. Michael Parish and got rid of piles of papers. "They got burned," Kobuk says. He says he was there, helping Father Mark Hoelsken (right), the current Jesuit superior in Alaska, burn hundreds of documents.
Hoelsken referred KTUU-TV to his superiors in Oregon. Father Patrick Ford denies the accusations, as does Bishop Kettler. "I can categorically say that anything pertinent to any of our cases has not been destroyed," he says.
Kettler says the church has tried to help those who say they were abused as children by clergy. "I don't think we've ever said we would not be responsible. We have always left it out in the open that we would do any kind of counseling that would help."
Still, Kettler claims the Lundowski case is different. So much time has passed, and since Lundowski seems to have been a lay volunteer, Kettler says there is no paper trail on Lundowski, which could limit the avenues available to bring justice.
"We do not know who he is. We do not know if he's alive. He has no opportunity to speak up or defend himself," Kettler says.
Or could he defend himself? Even though the lawsuit was filed months ago, Kettler and Ford say they haven't yet tried to locate Joseph Lundowski.
Could he still be alive? They are about to find out.
In the process of researching this story, KTUU-TV has attempted to contact several priests who may have known Joseph Lundowski. Those efforts are ongoing.
As for whether the Fairbanks diocese may consider declaring bankruptcy, as some others have, Bishop Kettler says church officials haven't even thought about it. But he says the diocese simply does not have the resources to pay out large settlements to the alleged victims in all 57 lawsuits, with perhaps even more to come.
It was also learned today that Bishop Kettler is looking to put his house on the market in Fairbanks. A spokesman for the Fairbanks Diocese would not say whether that was related to the lawsuits.
Revelations: Faith betrayed (Part 1)
In the largest clergy sex abuse case in the state, 34 men in western Alaska villages claim they were molested by a man they knew as Deacon Lundowski. For several James Does in the pending lawsuit, the old Catholic Church in St. Michael is a constant painful reminder of what they say happened there.
Revelations: Faith betrayed (Part 2)
They were young boys in the villages of St. Michael, Hooper Bay and Stebbins, and they thought of 'Deacon Lundowski' as a man of God. Now the boys are men -- and plaintiffs in a lawsuit that charges Lundowski with betraying that trust and molesting them.
Revelations: Faith betrayed (Part 4)
The legal team behind the lawsuits against the Fairbanks Diocese says church leaders are covering up the truth about sexual abuse that went on decades ago in rural Alaska. Church officials deny that misbehaving clergy were 'dumped' in Native villages.
Revelations: Faith betrayed (Part 5)
Thirty-four men have accused Joseph Lundowski of sexually assaulting them when he worked for the Catholic Church in western Alaska in the 1960s and '70s. Despite the lawsuit, Catholic officials say they don't really know who he was or if he's still alive. KTUU-TV traveled to the Midwest to find out.
Revelations: Faith betrayed (Part 6)
Sexual abuse has lasting effects on victims and their communities. Such is the case in several western Alaska villages where dozens of men say a church worker molested them decades ago. In the last of our series, experts talk about the effects of sexual abuse and how victims can begin to heal.