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Alaska Women Also Allege Abuse

A lawsuit accuses a Catholic missionary of molesting four villagers in the '60s and '70s. He admits being naked but denies sexual misconduct.

November 19, 2005|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

STEBBINS, Alaska — Joseph Lundowski is not the only Catholic missionary accused of molesting Eskimo children on St. Michael Island during the 1960s and '70s.

Four Alaska native women alleged in a lawsuit filed earlier this year that Anton Smario sexually abused them as young girls in Stebbins and St. Michael parishes.

Now 84, Smario denies any sexual misconduct, although he said he had been naked in front of the girls who came to his catechism classes.

Smario and Lundowski, who is accused of molesting 40 Eskimo boys, lived in the villages for seven years, beginning in 1968. Though not ordained clerics, they stayed in the rectories and performed nearly the same duties as priests, according to villagers.

Smario said that at the time he served in Alaska, he was a lay member of the Franciscan order. Working in Anchorage, he said he met Father George Endal, who offered him volunteer work at the two St. Michael Island parishes.

Marian Mike, a 43-year-old health clinic worker, alleged in a lawsuit that Smario began molesting her when she was 5 or 6.

Now a mother of seven and grandmother of three, Mike said that Smario would often masturbate in front of the girls in class and get some of them to touch his penis.

After each act, the cleric would give the girls cake, a can of peanuts or candy, Mike said. Twice, Mike said, she told Endal about Smario's actions but the alleged misconduct continued. Endal died in 1996 and this year was accused of molesting a minor.

In high school, Mike wrote an essay titled, "The Immaculate Deception," expressing her bitterness toward church leaders.

Smario, in a recent interview at his Concord, Calif., home, said he didn't "have a hang-up being without clothes" in front of the students, but that he never touched the girls inappropriately.

"There's a difference between being without clothing and acting in a salacious manner," said the married, retired photographer.

In hindsight, Smario said that his nudity in front of the girls wasn't good judgment. "Obviously, I should have been more careful and aware of what I was doing," he said.

In a May 22 letter to Judge Dale O. Curda in Bethel, Alaska, Smario elaborated on his innocence, pointing out that the bishop visited the villages, nuns taught summer school there, and dentists and doctors with no connection to the Catholic Church made regular trips.

"The impression the plaintiffs' lawyers have given that the children were totally isolated and had nowhere to turn is certainly false," he wrote.

In an interview, Smario also dismissed the notion, put forward in legal arguments by the church, that he and Lundowski were unauthorized volunteers unknown to Catholic officials.

"Oh, absolutely the bishop knew about us," Smario said. "He authorized us being there."

He added that when he left Alaska in 1975 to take care of his ill father, the bishop gave him a $1,000 bonus.

He said that he never heard allegations at the time that Lundowski was molesting boys.

Smario said that Lundowski "was very good in his job," adding, "He got along very well with the villagers. The children seemed to like him."

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