|Northwest Jesuits Agree to Landmark Settlement for Hundreds of Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims
March 25, 2011
(PORTLAND, Oregon) – The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province (commonly referred to as "the Jesuits"), has agreed to pay $166 million to settle the claims of hundreds of victims of clergy sexual abuse. The claims span a 30-year period, from the 1950s to the 1980s, and include victims across a five-state region, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. Most victims still live in the region.
The settlement of more than 500 individual claims, the result of over a year of negotiations, is believed to be the single-largest, clergy sex-abuse bankruptcy settlement in the United States. It is also the first bankruptcy among the ten Jesuit provinces nationwide. While a number of Catholic Dioceses have filed for bankruptcy, including the Spokane Diocese, the Jesuits are the first religious order to seek bankruptcy protection. The Oregon Province covers Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Alaska.
Seattle sexual abuse attorney Michael Pfau, who represents 150 of the victims and played a role in brokering the settlement, said the money for victims, while significant, is secondary in importance to exposing wrongs and forcing change. "It took courage for the men and women we represent to come forward, tell their story and challenge such a powerful institution," Pfau said. "Some of our clients were battling the Jesuits and their denials in court for years before the bankruptcy."
Although Pfau has represented hundreds of victims of clergy sexual abuse, he believes the bankruptcy will shed further light on what he perceives as a problem of institutional neglect. "The staggering number of victims who have come forward in the bankruptcy process underscores the extent of the widespread problems within the Jesuit order in the Pacific Northwest. Our clients and their communities deserve answers and deserve closure, and this settlement is a big step toward accomplishing those goals."
A steering committee of seven victims and their attorneys began negotiating with the Jesuits and its main insurer several months ago. The same committee will recommend to all claimants that the offer be accepted.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreement, approximately 70 percent of the payout will come from insurance assets. The remaining 30 percent will be paid directly by the Oregon Province.
While the payment plans are still being worked-out, the tentative agreement proposes that all claimants, including those who are not presently represented by an attorney, will be allowed to choose between two payment allocation plans. It also proposes that claimants have the option to share their personal stories with a claims reviewer who will be selected by representatives from the steering committee. For many, this will be an opportunity to talk about what happened to them and how it affected their lives.
According to Pfau, this process is similar to what he and other attorneys negotiated after the Spokane Diocese declared bankruptcy, and it is aimed at accomplishing similar goals. "While all of our clients came forward because they want to hold the Jesuit leadership accountable for decades of bad decisions, an important part of the healing process is allowing them to take ownership of what happened and share their story. This process should provide our clients with a means to do so."
Filed in February 2009, the case revealed a shocking number of abuse victims on Native American reservations in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, where the Jesuits ran boarding schools until the mid-1970s. Dozens of victims also came forward from remote villages in Alaska, including many who were orphans or were placed under the care of the Jesuits because their parents were too poor to take care of them.
"The victims represent some of the poorest and most vulnerable children in the Pacific Northwest," Pfau said. "We have long suspected the Jesuits used remote villages in Alaska and small towns near reservations in the Pacific Northwest as a place to send its abusive and problem priests, including known pedophiles. The evidence and personal stories that have emerged from this bankruptcy process show the Native American children paid the heavy price for that reckless disregard of children and others."
The sheer number of victims suggests the problem was endemic throughout the five-state region. More than 500 men and women came forward and documented the sexual abuse they allegedly suffered. While dozens of Jesuit priests and authority figures are implicated in the scandal, accusations against some priests were staggering. For example, more than sixty-six individual claims were filed over allegations of sexual abuse by Father Morse, a Jesuit priest who served at St Mary's Mission near Omak Washington. (See attached: List of Top 10 Worst Alleged Offenders.)
Other Jesuit abusers sought refuge at college campuses. For example, a number of boys have accused the late Reverend John Leary, a former president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, of sexually abusing them during his tenure at the school.
Meanwhile, other claimants alleged that after he was accused of molesting a young boy in Spokane, Jesuit officials secretly moved a popular and charismatic priest, Reverend Michael T. Toulouse, to Seattle University. While at that school, Pfau's clients allege that Toulouse sexually abused the boys in his car, on trips and at various parishes throughout the Seattle area. In 2005, Pfau successfully convinced Jesuit officials at the school to discontinue an honorary Toulouse memorial lecture series after he confronted them with new allegations of sexual abuse by the priest.
Although the bankruptcy court has lifted a confidentiality order on the tentative settlement, it will likely take several months before the Jesuits begin to compensate victims. The settlement must first be approved by a sufficient majority of individual claimants, and then by the bankruptcy court. According to Pfau, the settlement agreement also contemplates compensation for victims who have not yet come forward. While every case is different, it is often difficult for victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward because it means they must confront a part of their life that they have been trying to put behind them.
The settlement agreement will resolve claims against the Oregon Province, but it does not end claims against other Jesuit institutions that chose not to participate in the settlement negotiations. For example, Jesuit colleges Gonzaga University and Seattle University refused to participate because they claimed their assets were separate from the Oregon Province, even though both schools are operated by the Jesuits.
After the settlement, both colleges will still face claims and lawsuits, including a trial involving eight boys molested by Father Michael Toulouse. That trial was continued when the Jesuits filed for bankruptcy protection, but Pfau, who represents eight of the boys, believes it will now likely be rescheduled for trial in 2012.
For more information, contact Michael T. Pfau at (206) 462-4335 (work), 206-794-2882 (cell), or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit http://www.pcvalaw.com/jesuitbankruptcy.
SOCIETY OF JESUS, OREGON PROVINCE
TOP 10 WORST ALLEGED OFFENDERS
AND NUMBER OF CLAIMS FILED AGAINST EACH
(of 141 alleged abusers and 500+ claims of abuse)
Name (location of alleged abuse)
Number of Claims (filed against each)
Deacon Joseph Lundowski (Alaska) 69
Fr. John J. Morse (Washington) 66
Unidentified Priests, Nuns and Workers 55
Fr. A. J. "Freddy" Ferretti (Idaho) 34
Br. Charlie aka Rene Gallant (Montana) 28
Fr. George Endal (Alaska) 25
Mother Loyola (St. Ignatius Mission Boarding School, Montana) 24
Fr. Anton Smario (Alaska) 20
Fr. Bernard A. Harris (Montana) 20
Fr. Jules Convert (Alaska) 19
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