The Catholic Church has been caught “dumping” their “worst predatory pedophile priests” on Native American reservations in Montana.
Following a staggering amount of complaints of child sex abuse in Montana, an investigation has revealed that, rather than turn in those guilty of clerical pedophilia to the authorities, the Vatican has been sending them to work in Native American communities.
The Church has been accused of packing off their worst abusers to Montana’s dioceses and using Indian Reservations as “dumping grounds” for their worst recidivist priests accused of sexually abusing children.
According to reports, the Vatican had determined that these predatory pedophiles could live and remain undetected, yet, the Catholic Church acted as an anchor in these communities, and the abuse that they continued to inflict on these people, meant a whole new wave of victims were left to suffer in silence.
Attorney Vito de la Cruz said Montana reservations were no different: They were the church’s rural and remote sites for hiding predatory priests. Cruz’s Seattle law firm has represented victims from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, and he said the systematic issue is told from church documents revealed in cases already settled, and the active one against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese.
“I think the evidence points to that,” Cruz told the Tribune.
“Those who had problems in respect to abusing kids, it’s easy to hide in the reservations; people won’t complain much, it’s isolated there, and there are massively disproportionate balances of power.
“In the case against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese, a majority of those who have come forward with names and locations were allegedly abused on the remote Indian reservations.Off the reservations, victims who have come forward came largely from the former Catholic orphanage in Great Falls, two parishes in Billings and far flung communities in eastern Montana.
In many instances, the church has boosted conditions in reservation towns, but with the past practice of splitting Indian children from their parents to boarding schools often operated by the church, the history of Catholicism on the Montana reservations is complicated at best.
Fort Belknap Tribal President Mark Azure previously knew about the abuse by priests but was furious to learn of the church’s designs to continuously funnel bad priests to the reservation during the 1900s, a recently added layer to a complicated history.
“What the hell is a church if it’s going to allow this to happen?” he asked, then thought of the victims.
“For me to hear it is a shock. And for their ability to keep it within themselves for as long as they have leads us to their alcoholism, whatever abuses they were — did they become abusers themselves? This could be the very reason why.”
“One of the biggest criticisms of the church has been that they would do this kind of shuffling routinely until they reached the rope’s end,” Cruz said. “It was proved definitively that the dioceses were moving these folks around with no regard to the community… Then we had the reservations where we had people who were probably not the brightest stars in the whole church structure who were sent there.”
Rev. Edmund Robinson worked primarily on reservations during his career of 37 years, 25 of which were spent in Montana, according to Catholic directory records and information collected by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Twenty-one of those years were spent on Indian reservations, primarily the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northcentral Montana and the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana.
During his time as a priest on Montana Indian reservations in the 1950s and ’60s, Robinson served the St. Paul Mission in Hays as the rural school’s basketball coach, algebra teacher, superintendent and, of all things, an ethics instructor. Some called him “Father Eddy,” others simply called him “Father,” but in 2012 Edmund Robinson’s full name appeared on a list of about 13 clergy accused of molesting young Indian boys and girls on the Fort Belknap reservation from 1947 to 1980.
The church is now in settlement negotiations with victims from its jurisdiction. Robinson’s story helps provide context to the history preceding that case and illustrates the rampant abuse committed on reservations under the guise of salvation.
The Great Falls-Billings Diocese lawsuit currently includes 72 victims of sexual abuse by clergy members. Of those who provided locations and dates of the alleged abuse, 40 said it happened to them on a reservation, and 21 of those say they were abused at the St. Paul mission in Hays.
Of the 21 alleged victims from St. Paul, eight men, and women who have come forward said they were molested by Robinson, and often times several other church officials in the same time frame. Robinson is accused of molesting nine children across the state during his career. There could be more, as there may be other victims of any clergy who chose not to come forward.
Others accused of repeated abuse at St. Paul includes Father Fred Simoneau, whose five victims claim abuse from 1955 to 1974; Brother Ryan, whose alleged abuse spans from 1955 to 1966; and Brother Clarence Moreau, who is accused of sexually molesting four children from 1959 to 1971.
Only one person has come forward to claim abuse in Wolf Point, on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation further northeast. But in southeastern Montana, eleven people have claimed they were sexually abused at the St. Labre Indian Mission on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, while seven have made similar allegations from the St. Xavier Indian Mission on the Crow Indian Reservation.
Father Emmett Hoffmann is accused of molesting students at the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, but his relationship with the reservation was different than Robinson’s. Hoffmann served Northern Cheyenne reservation all through his career and was highly revered after the suit was filed against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese and after his death less than a year later.
A book commemorating Hoffmann as a powerful advocate for the Northern Cheyenne also describes his struggles with alcoholism. A Cheyenne family told the Billings Gazette they saw past his problems, though, considering his community support and substantial fundraising, which was instrumental in building a factory, dozens of homes and three churches, according to his obituary. In 1961, Hoffmann was named the honorary chief of the Northern Cheyenne Council.
“Father Emmett’s humanitarian achievements on behalf of the Cheyenne stand unequaled in the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th Century American West,” his obituary reads.
But about 50 years after being named honorary chief, five victims who were students at the St. Labre Indian School came forward and accused Hoffmann of molesting them from 1955 to 1984.
“This is the presence of the priests in the communities,” Cruz said.
“How do you stack up your chances of complaining of abuse to the same people who are sheltering abusers? How do you go against the community structures when those structures might be influenced by the Catholic Church?”
Azure said the history of Catholicism on the reservation may deviate as some have passed it down orally from generation to generation, but the prevailing sentiment is that Catholics came to “help” the plains Indians find a religion congruent with the expanding white world.
“From what I know, they came to help us from ourselves,” Azure said. “I think it was another attempt to, in the church’s view, civilize a race that they viewed as uncivilized.”
They opened churches, gained membership and eventually sent children to be assimilated at boarding schools where physical and sexual abuse was reported. At a boarding school in South Dakota, Azure’s own father said he was sexually abused by priests who would give children “medicine,” that made them drowsy.
Once subdued by the mixture — whether it was cough syrup or whiskey, Azure never knew — priests allegedly brought them to a basement room and sexually abused children like Azure’s father.
When victims would tell a friend or family member, they sometimes told the victim to not put the church in jeopardy. The priests or nuns would tell the victim no one would believe them anyway, Cruz said.
“What’s a child who’s eight years old going to do?” Cruz said.