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Oprah and the Jesuits

Nov 19, 2007 — Categories: ,

The Jesuits have settled a lawsuit brought by Alaska Native survivors for $50 million, the largest single settlement against a religious order. At least 110 children and youth were sexually abused from 1961 until 1987 in remote villages in Alaska by Roman Catholic priests.

The Jesuits have settled a lawsuit brought by Alaska Native survivors for $50 million, the largest single settlement against a religious order. At least 110 children and youth were sexually abused from 1961 until 1987 in remote villages in Alaska by Roman Catholic priests.

“No amount of money can ever bring back a childhood, a soul, or a community," said Ken Roosa of Anchorage, Alaska, one of the victims' attorneys. "In some villages, it is difficult to find an adult who was not sexually violated by men who used religion and power to rape, shame and then silence hundreds of Alaska Native children . . . For our clients, this settlement represents a long overdue acknowledgment of the truth of their stories of abuse, stories that until today were largely denied and belittled by apologists for the abusers. For so many, this day will be the day they remember all their lives."

These children were among the most vulnerable and no doubt were taught to trust the village priest who should have been their protector and their shepherd. Instead, too often, he was their predator. In Ezekiel 34, God condemns the shepherds for feeding on the sheep they were sent to protect. Then God promises: “I will rescue my sheep from their mouths . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed and I will strengthen the weak . . . I will feed them with justice.” Hopefully this settlement will provide some measure of justice to these survivors and their families.

Contrast this 26-year history of abuse and cover up with the recent circumstances at Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. A dorm matron at the school has been charged with assaulting and sexually abusing the girls in her care. She has pled not guilty.

Oprah’s response to the disclosure was swift and unequivocal—the matron was immediately suspended. Oprah went to the school, taking her own investigators and counselors to work with local police who have been slow to respond in the past. Oprah then spoke to the media. She said that even though she and the school administrators had measures in place to prevent sexual abuse, these had been insufficient and she took responsibility. She apologized to the girls and their families. She has taken further steps to prevent this abuse from happening again at the school.

For Oprah, child sexual abuse is personal: she is a survivor herself. So this allegation of abuse in the school she founded to support girls “has been one of the most devastating . . . experiences of my life.” But Oprah’s commitment is even stronger as she faces the painful fact that abuse of kids can happen anywhere: “I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls becomes a safe and nurturing and enriched setting that I have envisioned, a place capable of fostering a full measure of these girls’ productivity, creativity and of their humanity.”

How refreshing it would be to see and hear this kind of response from religious leaders.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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