Bankrupt Jesuit Order Pays Native Americans $166 Million in Sex Abuse Settlement
Payout: The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province has agreed to hand out the third largest payment in the ongoing sexual abuse scandal
A bankrupt order of priests has agreed to pay $166.1 million to hundreds of Native American and Alaska Natives who were abused at their schools.
The payout by the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province - part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case - is the third biggest settlement to date in the Catholic Church's ongoing sexual abuse scandal.
According to lawyers for the victims, it also is the largest ever by a single Catholic religious order.
Victim Clarita Vargas, 51, said: 'It's a day of reckoning and justice.'
Both she and her two sisters were abused by the head of St. Mary's Mission and School, a former Jesuit-run Indian boarding school on the Colville Indian Reservation near Omak, Washington, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The abuse began when they were as young as 6 or 7, she said.
'My spirit was wounded, and this makes it feel better.'
The Jesuit order ran village and reservation schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
The claims are from victims who were students at schools in all five states. Nearly all the victims are American Indian or Alaska Native.
The Very Rev. Patrick Lee, speaking for the Oregon Province, said the organisation would not comment on the settlement announcement because the bankruptcy proceedings are ongoing, 'as well as out of respect for the judicial process and all involved.'
He said the order was hoping to conclude the bankruptcy process as quickly as possible.
Threat: Initially it looked like the series of private schools and universities owned by the order might be under threat. Gonzaga University (pictured) is one of those originally under threat during the bankruptcy proceedings
The settlement is believed to be the Catholic Church's third-largest in the wide-ranging sex abuse scandal.
Los Angeles Diocese, agreed to pay $660 million to 508 victims and the San Diego Diocese agreed a $198 million settlement to 144 victims.
The province previously settled another 200 claims.
In 2009 the organisation filed for bankruptcy, claiming the payments depleted its treasury.
But victims argued the province remained wealthy because it controls and owns Gonzaga University, Gonzaga Preparatory School, Seattle University and other schools and properties.
The litigators later dropped pursuing the schools during the bankruptcy negotiations, so the settlement does not includes such institutions as Gonzaga University in Spokane.
The University is known for its basketball team.
Scandal: Pope Benedict XVI has faced a growing number of abuse cases in his short reign
Many of the abuses happened in remote villages and on reservations.
The order was accused of using those areas as dumping grounds for problem priests.
California attorney John Manley, who represented some of the abuse victims, said the Jesuits knowingly put molesters in a position to abuse children.
'It wasn't an accident. The evidence showed they did it on purpose and it was rape,' Manley said.
Manley said he was certain not all the victims have come forward and believes the pattern of abuse among Catholic priests continues.
Both the order and its insurers are paying into the settlement. About $6 million of the settlement is being set aside for future claims.
Attorney Blaine Tamaki said the priest who molested Vargas and about 100 other children has not been charged with a crime because the statute of limitations in Washington state is so restrictive.
A bill before the state's 2011 Legislature would remove this.
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Catholic Order Reaches $166 Million Settlement With Sexual Abuse Victims
A Roman Catholic religious order in the Northwest has agreed to pay $166 million to more than 500 victims of sexual abuse, many of whom are American Indians and Alaska Natives who were abused decades ago at Indian boarding schools and in remote villages, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Friday.
The settlement, with the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, known as the Northwest Jesuits, is the largest abuse settlement by far from a Catholic religious order, as opposed to a diocese, and it is one of the largest abuse settlements of any kind by the Catholic Church. The Jesuits are the church’s largest religious order, and their focus is education. The Oregon Province includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.
“There is a huge number of victims, in part because these Native American communities were remote and vulnerable, and in part because of a policy by the Jesuits, even though they deny it, of sending problem priests to these far-off regions,” said Terry McKiernan of Bishopaccountability.org, a victims’ advocacy group that tracks abuse cases.
The province released a statement saying it would not comment on the settlement announced by the plaintiffs’ lawyers because it was involved in bankruptcy litigation. The bankruptcy stems from previous abuse settlements, totaling about $55 million, reached several years ago. A small group of victims and their lawyers have been negotiating the current settlement for more than a year as part of the province’s bankruptcy-ordered restructuring.
An insurer for the province is paying the bulk of the settlement, which still is subject to approval by hundreds of other victims and by a federal judge.
John Allison, a lawyer based in Spokane, Wash., represented many clients who were abused in the late 1960s and early 1970s while they were students at St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Wash., near the reservation of the Colville Confederated Tribes, one of the largest reservations in the country. The Jesuits ran the St. Mary’s school until the 1970s, when federal policies began to encourage more Indian control. St. Mary’s is now closed, though its building stands beside a new school.
Mr. Allison noted that English was not the native language for some of the students at the time of the abuse. Some were 6 and 7 years old and came from difficult family situations. Some were orphans. At the same time, many Jesuit priests were not happy to have been assigned to such remote places.
“They let down a very vulnerable population,” Mr. Allison said.
Lawyers representing some of the victims initially suggested they would go after assets of some of the region’s large Jesuit institutions, including Gonzaga University and Seattle University. But the settlement does not involve them, and their future vulnerability is unclear. Mr. Allison said some of the accused priests, now in their 80s, live at Gonzaga under strict supervision.
Mr. Allison and another lawyer, Leander James, of Idaho, said the settlement required the province to eventually apologize to the victims.
One of the plaintiffs, Dorothea Skalicky, was living on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in northern Idaho in the 1970s when she said she was abused by a Jesuit priest who ran Sacred Heart Church, in Lapwai. Ms. Skalicky, now 42, said that her family lived across from the church for several years, and that she was abused from age 6 to 8.
“My family looked up to him,” Ms. Skalicky said of the priest, who is deceased. “He was somebody high up that was respected by the community and my parents.” The church, she said, “was supposed to be a safe place.”