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Reformatory CP - June 2003


Washington Post, 2 June 2003

Abuse Charges Hit Reservation

Church-Run Schools Cited In Wide-Ranging Lawsuit

By Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writer


Sherwyn Zephier, 46, points to a line in front of St. Paul's Mission in Yankton, S.D., where Native American students had to stand. He said the students were hit if they crossed that line. He described his time at St. Paul's as "twelve years of punishment, torture."

ROSEBUD RESERVATION, S.D. -- The day the Rev. Kenneth Walleman came to the front door, Lloyd "Sonny" One Star went to get his gun.

"I couldn't keep my composure. I kept shaking," said One Star, 46, a leader of the Sioux tribe on this reservation. "I was going to kill him."

Walleman was a former administrator at St. Francis Mission, the Jesuit boarding school One Star had attended through his youth -- a priest, One Star says now, who sexually abused him for years.

Walleman fled before he could state his business that day a few years ago, but he may yet face the wrath of Sonny One Star -- and that of other former students. After years of holding their silence, hundreds of Native Americans are giving accounts of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the priests and nuns who ran a dozen missionary boarding schools across South Dakota through most of the 20th century.

Allegations of priestly sexual abuse in parishes have rocked the Catholic Church over the past year. But what the former students say occurred at reservation schools into the 1970s was more systemic: They say that physical abuse was a routine part of school discipline; that sexual abuse was commonplace; and that both forms of abuse were committed against children in the round-the-clock, unsupervised care of school staff members.

As a result, some former students have filed a $25 billion class-action lawsuit in Washington against the federal government, which paid the church to house, feed and educate Native American children. Since the lawsuit was filed in April, their attorneys said, the number of plaintiffs has expanded to include hundreds.

A series of lawsuits involving the same allegations of abuse is expected to be filed by mid-June against the clerics and dioceses responsible for the schools, said Jeff Herman, the plaintiffs' Miami-based attorney. The schools reverted to Indian control in the 1970s.


Despite some gestures of reform, such as ending child labor in the mid-1950s, the abuse persisted into the '70s, former students said. In more than a dozen extended interviews at three reservations across South Dakota, former students gave similar accounts of maltreatment by their guardians at three boarding schools.

Priests and nuns, the former students said, routinely whipped them with razor strops and beat them with paddles, sometimes until their shorts were bloody. At times, they said, older children were made to hit younger ones. For such infractions as wetting the bed or speaking in Lakota, their native language, children were locked in closets for hours, made to kneel on boards or forced to eat lye soap.

One former student has alleged that a nun threw her down a three-story laundry chute for speaking Lakota, and several others said they witnessed a child hung by his feet from a bell tower as punishment for running away.


A Range of Responses

Over the years, some priests and nuns have apologized in letters or in conversations with former students for mistreating them generally, without acknowledging specific acts of sexual or physical abuse. One Star said that may be why Walleman came to visit him after not having any contact for 15 years.

At a Good Friday service in 1998, Sister Miriam Shindelar, a former teacher at St. Paul's, formally apologized on behalf of the parish for historical injustices committed on the reservation, requesting "forgiveness from those we have wounded and injured," according to a news account from the time.

Several priests and nuns still living on the reservations said they had learned that sexual abuse had taken place there, but could not talk about it because of the pending litigation.

But in the dioceses, abbeys and convents that ran the schools and supplied the teachers, this is the first time they have been confronted with formal allegations.

The responses have varied. Some say that allegations of abuse are exaggerated, and that the schools educated children and gave them opportunities to succeed in mainstream society. They point to a number of boarding school graduates who went on to college.

"One hears about extreme circumstances in terms of discipline and punishment. One also hears from their contemporaries who say, 'Sure it was strict, but' " it also provided an education, said Peter Klink, now president of Holy Rosary.

The Rev. George Lyon, a teacher at St. Paul's in the 1960s and now prior of Blue Cloud Abbey, which sent the Benedictine priests to the school, said: "I see very exaggerated accusations. The idea of a person having been thrown down the steps, things such as this, or hung in a bell tower -- in my time there's no evidence of this whatsoever."

Others say that wrongs were committed against the children and that a full investigation should follow. Asked about the account of Sonny One Star, the Rev. James Grummer, the superior for the Wisconsin province of the Society of Jesus, which sent the priests to St. Francis, said: "We take allegations of misconduct in ministry seriously. We have systems in place for investigating allegations."

The province, he said, had not received any allegations directly from One Star, but he added, "We want to do everything we can pastorally to help the healing process begin for anyone who might need assistance related to any form of physical or emotional abuse."

The priests and nuns accused of misconduct are in some cases deceased or have left their lives of religious service. A few still live on the reservations in a convent or church, no longer teaching but still tolerated within the community.

"I don't think anyone was mistreated unless they asked for it," said Sister Mary Francis Poitra, now in her eighties, as she made her way to Mass at St. Paul's Mission recently. She is accused by numerous former students of both physical and sexual abuse, allegations she calls "gossip." Children, she said, "were spanked, like everybody else. They weren't treated wrong. They asked for everything that happened to them."

Walleman, who is in his eighties, lives in a Jesuit retirement community in Milwaukee, where he occasionally does volunteer work.

Going to School

Sonny One Star was raised by his grandmother in the Sioux tradition, speaking Lakota and learning the rituals of his people in the countryside. His grandfather was a chief of the Rosebud tribe.

At the same time, his father and mother were staunch Catholics, products of the boarding schools. They lived in a small house on the grounds of St. Francis Mission, a short distance from the school and its dormitories. One Star's father was the school plumber, and the house was paid for by the church.

In 1963, One Star was 6, and still spoke only Lakota. "One day here comes a car, my father gets out and talks to my grandmother, and off I went," he recalled recently, sitting in the kitchen of his modest home on Rosebud. Three freshly tanned buffalo skins, hunted by One Star, were stretched on wood frames in the front yard.

"That's when my ordeal started," he said. "My grandmother started singing a death song. People had lost relatives at other Indian schools, so she looked at it as a one-way death sentence."

When One Star got to the school, his braid was cut off and he was forbidden to speak Lakota. When he was caught speaking anyway, he said, he was spanked on his bare buttocks with an inch-thick paddle. "Three of us at a time," he said. "It happened on a regular basis.

"If you showed emotion, he [the priest] would hit you some more. I learned real fast not to show emotion."

Who was the priest? "Father Gill," he said. "He still has that paddle in his office. A trophy."

The sexual abuse started shortly thereafter, One Star said, and included fondling, oral sex or rape by two nuns and five priests or brothers. "I was quiet," he said. "I never spoke up. I never said anything." He dreaded one nun's repeated advances at recess. "I can still smell her, feel her grip. A terrible woman," he said.

When during a school vacation One Star told his grandmother what was happening, she refused to send him back, he said. When school officials came to fetch him, she hid him under the bed.

"But my father and mother, they wouldn't believe me at all, whatsoever," One Star said. "It's very hard to have someone believe stuff like that. And no one wanted to bring something like that into the open. My dad might lose his job."

The sexual abuse ended at age 8 or 9, he said. Then, "it was nothing but the paddle and the fist," he recalled. "And I could tolerate that. I could stand there and get hit all day long." In 1972, when One Star was 13, St. Francis became an Indian-run day institution.


'It's a Shock'

At the neat, rectangular building that houses the remaining three Jesuit priests who live and serve on the Rosebud reservation, the Rev. Joseph Gill, 77, sat with a letter in his lap. It was written by Sonny One Star, and detailed the abuse he says he suffered at St. Francis, where Gill was the principal from 1961 to 1972. He looked pale, stricken as he read the three-page, single-spaced document.

"This is a terrible indictment," he said, staring at the paper. "If these things are true, or some are true, it seems to me that Sonny would have grounds for some kind of recompense."

He went through the list of the accused, all of whom plaintiffs' attorneys said would be named in the lawsuit. One is Theodore Kowalski, a seminarian accused of sexual touching: "I certainly did not know anything about Father Kowalski doing this. That doesn't mean it couldn't have happened."


Gill himself is accused in the letter of beating boys "out of the blue" and of talking "about Jesus Christ while his hand was down the kid's pants fondling him."

He responded: "There were always children around. The kids were always coming up, looking for attention. I suppose that could be misinterpreted." He said he did not have a "trophy" paddle on the wall of his office, as One Star had said.

The priest spent a long time staring at the paper in his lap. "It's a shock," he finally said. "Some of these things are misinterpretations. But if all these things happened to Sonny, I could see how other things, relatively innocent, could be misconstrued.

"As I look back on it, I can say I wish we knew then some of the things we know now. We might have been able to move faster in breaking up the boarding school.

"We worked long hours. It was a strain. We were undermanned. The boarding schools weren't desired." He paused. "There was great joy at the possibility of getting out of the boarding schools."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

ABC Channel 13 WLOX-TV, Biloxi/Gulfport/Pascagoula, Mississippi, 6 June 2003

Bethel Operators Defend Themselves

A little more than a week ago 13 cadets testified at a closed hearing in the George County Courthouse. The boys told judges, county prosecuting attorneys, and state agencies they were physically abused during their time at the Bethel Boys Academy. Representatives for the academy say no abuse occured.

"To the best of my knowledge no abuse has taken place and if it had we have a zero tolerance for abuse of any children by a staff member," said Richard Brown a counselor at the home. Brown says the school's program is military in nature and requires instructors to be strict with students. Representatives of the Bethel Boys Academy say no abuse has taken place at the home. "We use a military type bootcamp, a military style bootcamp program on the front end to get them familiar with uniform standards and able to respond to specific directions in a specific way."

Brown says the school supervises instructors and cadets twenty-four seven and that the cadets injure each other. Instructors are allowed to use corporal punishment but only if a witness is present. Academy administrators said if the boys' claims were found to be factual the school would deal with those in violation of the school's zero tolerance policy on abuse.

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Middletown Press, Connecticut, 25 June 2003

Belt beating may have been part of good-bye hazing ritual at center

By Jim Hickey
Middletown Press Staff

MIDDLETOWN -- A monitor at one of the city's alternative correction centers was terminated earlier this week, after she allegedly beat a teenage resident with a belt, possibly as part of a good-bye sendoff.

The monitor had worked at the Eddy Center Middlesex Alternative Incarceration Center, which is run by The Connection Inc., for about three months , authorities said Tuesday.

The Connection, a non-profit, private treatment center, was formed in 1972, and was one of Connecticut's first agencies to initiate community based treatment programs. The Connection runs several treatment centers across the state, including the 24-bed Middlesex Alternative Incarceration Center on the Campus of Connecticut Valley Hospital.

The Middlesex Alternative Incarceration Center, which is partially funded by the state Department of Children and Families, treats men and women age 16 and older sent there by the courts.

At least one female resident, believed to be 17 years old, reported to state police that the monitor had spanked her with a belt. According to Heide Erb, a spokeswoman for The Connection Inc., the monitor was initially placed on administrative leave while the incident was being investigated.

She was terminated after state police investigators and officials from The Connection were able to gather more information and corroborate eye witness accounts.

The beating is believed to be an "isolated incident," said Erb. No other employees were believed to have been involved.

State police are conducting an investigation, and no charges have been filed, said State Police Sgt. Paul Vance.

"This may take a while. We don't have answers to many questions yet," said Sgt. Vance.

The monitor may have given the resident lashings with the belt as part of an impromptu goodbye ritual. The incident occurred on the resident's last day of incarceration.

Although Erb said the incident was "highly inappropriate," she noted that the evidence suggests it wasn't done maliciously or to impose any kind of punishment. However misguided, it may have actually been a show of affection, Erb added.

"It seemed to have been part of a send-off for the girl's last day. Kind of like paddling someoneon their birthday. However, it was highly inappropriate activity for someone in a supervisory role," said Erb.

"The (accounts) that an employee beat a resident with a belt is misleading." Erb added.

Police are investigating if any other residents have been struck. One girl and several men reportedly may have been struck during the incident, although state police have only received one complaint, Sgt. Vance said.

State judicial officials have also started to contact other residents recently released from the program to determine if they went through the same goodbye ritual.

©The Middletown Press 2003

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