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Tuesday, March 9, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jesuit retiree minimizes impact of abuse

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Roman Catholic Church officials are distancing themselves from comments by a retired Jesuit official who suggested that a priest's alleged abuse of Native Alaskan boys wouldn't have much effect because their culture was "fairly loose" on sexual matters.

The Rev. William "Lom" Loyens, 77, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology, commented in a deposition that is part of a lawsuit brought by eight men who claim they were abused as boys in western Alaska villages.

The men contend the late Rev. Jules Convert, a Jesuit village priest, fondled them between 1955 and 1977 as they slept or, in one case, watched a movie.

Loyens, now retired in Spokane, was called as a witness by an attorney for the Northern Alaska Diocese and was deposed at law offices in Spokane on Jan. 6. The transcript was released to The Associated Press by attorney Kenneth Roosa, who represents the men.

Loyens, who was in charge of Jesuits in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska from 1976 to 1980, said in the deposition he had no indication or suspicion that Convert might have acted inappropriately.

But when asked whether a white priest fondling an Alaska Native boy would have an impact, positive or negative, Loyens said the Athabascan Indian and Yupik Eskimo cultures were "fairly loose" on sexual matters.

He said he knew mothers in villages who played with their baby boys' testicles "and the little boy was enjoying this immensely."

Asked how that applied to a priest accused of molesting boys ages 6 to 12, Loyens replied that, 30 or 40 years ago, "that would be less impressive than it would be for, say, somebody in Fairbanks or Spokane."

Plaintiffs' attorney John Manly then asked: "So basically, it wouldn't have, in your view, much of an impact?"

"That's what I'm inclined to say, in terms of the anthropological background," Loyens replied.

Reached by phone in Spokane, Loyens had no comment on the deposition and suggested it was unethical for the plaintiffs' attorney to have released it. Loyens said he had not reviewed or signed off on a transcript, and a spokesman for the Jesuit order in Oregon said the comments were only a small part of a long deposition.

Catholic officials said Loyens' statement did not reflect church views.

"We consider sexual abuse in any culture as evil," said Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler. "I, as the bishop of Fairbanks, am committed to doing whatever I can to see that sexual abuse of youth is eliminated."

Kettler said he does not know Loyens but wondered whether the retired official was quoted out of context. "I don't feel he would feel any different than we do," he said.

Convert died in 1995 at age 85. Jesuit officials have denied the men's charges, saying no allegations of misbehavior by the priest were ever reported to his religious superiors. Church lawyers also say the standard two-year statute of limitations should apply and the lawsuit should be dismissed.

The Rev. Brad Reynolds, spokesman for the Oregon Province, said the comments by Loyens were only a small part of a long deposition and that Loyens was speaking as an anthropologist.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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