John Kelleher Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard L. King had long been involved in public activities at Fort Belknap and was well-respected in Native American circles. He grew up on a ranch near Fort Belknap, attend Catholic and public schools, eventually received a master's degree from the prestigious University of Chicago, served on the tribal supreme court and was a drug and alcohol counsellor. So it wasn't surprising when an investigator for the Attorneys for Justice asked him for help in locating victims of priest sex abuse. Because King was so involved in the community, he might be able to help convince victims to come forward, the investigator felt. He asked King to get back to him. A few days later, King called the investigator. "I found a victim for you," King said. "Who?" The investigator asked. Nearly five decades of torment passed through King's mind as he responded. "Me," he answered, In the early 1960s, when he was 11 years old, King had been sexually abused by a Jesuit brother, who had befriended many youngsters on Fort Belknap. King had known many priests and nuns on the reservation. His parents, especially his mother, were devout Catholics and had come to admire them. "They did a lot for people," King said. "We respected them." Brother Clarence Moreau, a fullblooded Native American, had grown up at Fort Belknap, living with his grandparents. His Indian name was Clarence Talks Different, but he had changed his name. Brothers perform many church activities similar to priests, but are not ordained and do not say Mass. He took kids on day trips, hiking or swimming. Sometimes, he would bring King to Havre to go shopping or take in a movie. Sometimes, King said, his parents would loan him use of the family pickup. "To us, Havre was a big city," he said. "We had good times." Then he started inviting them on overnight stays where he would provide cigarettes and alcohol. "And then, he sexually abused me," King said quietly. It's a secret he kept until just recently. And it's a secret that has affected his life in ways he never realized. He knows things would have been better if he had come forward then, but he said he never considered the option. "Things were different in those days," he said. "There was a sense of shame." Even his parents wouldn't have believed him, he said. "I know I would have been spanked for saying such a thing," he said. "They never would have believed it." So he kept the secret to himself. He completed high school and began his adult life. Even those close to him had no idea of the trauma of his youth. It affected nearly every aspect of his life, but only recently has he realized the extent. And, as little sense as it makes to him today, he always felt guilty, like he was the one to blame for the abuse. The problems he faced in his life are symptomatic of those faced by other abuse victims, he said. "Victims have a hard time completing tasks," he said. He attended Haskell Junior College, and did well. But he fell short of his associate's degree by just a few credits. "Victims have a low self-esteem, a low self-worth," he said. Even as he achieved a lot in his life, he always lacked self-esteem, he said. It was a problem he faced throughout his life. In his teens and 20s, he had a severe alcohol problem he attributed to his effort to block out his abuse. He overcame that problem, and has been a recovering alcoholic for 30 years. "I dealt with the alcohol abuse," he said. "But I didn't deal with the underlying problem." He disclosed the abuse incidents to his counsellor in the 12-point Alcoholics Anonymous program, he said. But the program was confidential, and he never discussed the abuse with anyone else. Throughout his life, he had bouts of depression and anxiety. "My wife said I was always angry," he said. But while he was helping other people deal with their alcohol and psychological problems, he kept his hidden from others and tried to block it out from himself. "Every day I would think about it," he said. There were times in his life when he was suicidal and even homicidal. "I remember driving down the road in my pickup and thinking I wanted to drive across the center line and into a tractor-trailer," he said. "That's when I knew I needed help." The bitterness he felt toward Brother Clarence prompted him to imagine killing him. "I felt I was going to find him and kill him," he said. He recalls being happy when he learned that Brother Clarence had committed suicide. But King said even those close to him had no idea he was going through such torment. At age 55, he saw a psychiatrist for the first time. The abuse has caused him to be suspicious of the church he once loved. "I have been lax about my Catholic faith," he said. "I have gone to church two or three times in the last year." But most Native American Catholics combine their Catholic faith with Native American spirituality, he said. "I thank God for my Native beliefs," he said. "It has helped me get through this." The years of anxiety came to a climax in the days after the investigator asked him to help out. Should he become part of the lawsuit against the Jesuits? "I thought about it a lot. I prayed about it," he said. Coming forward might convince others they have nothing to be ashamed of, he said. And, it would help cleanse himself of decades of anxiety and fear. "Since I have come forward, I'm not so angry," he said. He thinks coming forward will help others in the same way. He strongly suspects friends in his youth were also victimized. Stepping forward does not mean victims have to go public, he said. The lawsuit against the Oregon Province of the Jesuits allows for confidentiality. In fact, the vast majority of those taking part in the legal action remain anonymous. King said he still had apprehensions about talking in public about the incidents. But as he spoke, his fears began to dissolve. At the conclusion of an interview with a reporter, he leaned back and smiled. "I feel better having told the story," he said.