A Statement from the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors on the Offenses of Fr. James Poole
A statement from the KNOM Radio Mission, Incorporated, Board of Directors:
Several stories have entered the media recently concerning the offenses of KNOM founder Fr. James Poole, SJ.
First, former KNOM volunteer Helene Stapinski wrote a column for Commonweal magazine as part of its “Why We Came. Why We Left. Why We Stayed” series, documenting different reactions to the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.1 Poole was no longer working at the radio station in the early 1990s when Stapinski was on staff, but insofar as his name was still affixed to KNOM correspondence at that time, and recordings of his voice were sent daily over the airwaves, she indicates that she came to feel like an unwitting accomplice to Poole’s abuse and deception.
Then, a lengthy story by the Center for Investigative Reporting highlights Poole in a broader effort to show how clergy sex abuse in the former Oregon province of the Jesuit order was ignored or covered up by Jesuit superiors.2 This was packaged as a print story and picked up by the Associated Press, and also presented as an audio documentary, reported by former KNOM employee Emily Schwing. She served as KNOM News Director for three months in early 2016. Additional stories about Poole’s crimes have since appeared.
This is not the first time that Poole’s numerous acts of sexual abuse against minors have been documented publicly. The PBS investigative series Frontline told Poole’s story in 2011 as part of a program on clergy sex abuse in rural Alaska, and numerous TV, radio, and print stories covered the allegations against Poole as they became public in 2004 and 2005.3
First and foremost, it is crucial to reiterate that Poole’s actions are indefensible and inexcusable. He brought pain and humiliation to his victims, and shame even to those of us who never knew him, but are forced to deal with his reprehensible legacy. The lawsuits against Poole and other priests and religious sent the Diocese of Fairbanks into bankruptcy in 2008, and nearly ended KNOM. But the station emerged in 2010 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, remaining faithfully Catholic in its identity, and with a volunteer board of directors serving as owner in place of the diocese.
The late Tom Busch, who was instrumental in turning the vision of KNOM into a reality in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and who served as General Manager of the radio station from 1975 until 2005, was shocked when allegations of child sex abuse against Poole emerged in 2004. Less than a week after the first lawsuit was filed against the Jesuits and the Fairbanks Diocese, Tom sent a letter to every person on the KNOM donor list, which contained just over 29,000 addresses at the time. For the sake of honesty and transparency, Tom told the donors of KNOM, who provide the financial lifeblood of the radio station, that the individual most associated with the mission, Fr. Jim Poole, was a child sex offender. Yes, Poole had yet to defend himself (and never did stand trial in a court of law), but Tom had every reason to believe the allegations, because they came from his own sister-in-law. He went on to assure donors that KNOM would be contacting all former radio station volunteers – nearly 300 of them – to convey the same information, and to direct them to the proper authorities if they wanted to report more instances of Poole’s abuse. In addition, KNOM News reported objectively and consistently on the Poole allegations as more of his victims came forward, and for several years after details about Poole’s crimes first became public, the station regularly broadcast information about recognizing the signs of abuse and where to turn for help.
Now, nearly 15 years later, we know so much more about Jim Poole than his KNOM colleagues did in prior decades – thanks in large part, of course, to the brave survivors who have come forth and reported what he did to them. At the time Poole was at KNOM, many of his co-workers had inklings of Poole’s inappropriate behavior towards women, but never a full picture of what he was doing. And no evidence to date suggests that anyone at KNOM knew that Poole often targeted children – his most heinous crime. The people who did have a fuller picture of Poole’s offenses, after reports from fellow priests started coming in as early as 1960, were his superiors within the Jesuit order, both inside and beyond the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. And the aforementioned news stories do a commendable job of showing how the leaders of those institutions dismissed those alarming reports and refused to remove Poole from his ministries.
It’s an all-too-common tale across the Catholic Church worldwide. Many life-long Catholics have now been personally affected by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Either someone we know has tragically been abused, or else a priest, deacon, or other representative of the Church that we know has committed abuse. It is a pervasive, devastating, and sickening problem on so many levels.
So what are we to do? Shutting down the transmitter, selling off the microphones, and walking away would leave undone the important work that is before us: sharing the beauty, goodness, and truth of Christ’s Gospel, and serving as a steadfast, humble, and faithful companion to the people of Western Alaska.
We are a Catholic institution that carries the scourge of an abusive priest in its past, but we choose not to abandon our ministry because of it. The needs for inspiration, information and positivity are as present now in our remote region as they ever have been – not to mention the profound amount of healing necessary for the families and communities of those abused. We will continue to reach out to survivors by providing information about the resources available to them, and about how to report instances of abuse if they have not done so already. We will also talk about Poole’s legacy in an honest yet sensitive way to all members of the KNOM family – past, present, and future.
We choose to be part of the future of the Church, as we humbly contribute towards rebuilding God’s Kingdom where it has been shattered.
Yours in Christ,
KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors
Tim Bodony, President
Fr. Ross Tozzi, Vice President
Amy Gorn, Secretary
Kevin Fimon, Treasurer
Dennis Bookey, Director
Paul Korchin, Director
- Helene Stapinski, “Why I Left,” Commonweal Magazine
- Emily Schwing, Aaron Sankin and Michael Corey, “These priests abused in Native villages for years. They retired on Gonzaga’s campus,” Reveal
- PBS, “The Silence,” Frontline
Image at top: A plaque inside St. Joseph Catholic Church, Nome: “We Remember, We Grieve, We Pray for Healing.” Photo: Margaret DeMaioribus, KNOM.
Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, comments have been disabled for this post. If you would like to leave a comment on this board statement, please email general manager Margaret DeMaioribus at email@example.com. This post has also been shared on KNOM’s social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this statement used the word “occassionally” in describing the frequency with which the recorded voice of Fr. James Poole was broadcast on KNOM airwaves in the early 1990s. Volunteer alumni from that era consulted with Board President Tim Bodony during the drafting of the statement and provided detailed information about Poole’s on-air presence. But Bodony neglected to edit the original, inaccurate statement accordingly, and the word “occasionally,” rather than “daily,” made it into the final version of the statement. This was an oversight and should not have happened. We regret this unintentional error that failed to accurately describe KNOM programming at that time.