Jesuits Agree to Settlement in Abuse Case
By Janet I. Tu
January 4, 2008
The Jesuit order in the Northwest has agreed to pay $4.8 million to 16 Native Americans who were sexually and physically abused years ago when they were students at a boarding school near Omak.
The Roman Catholic order — formally named the Society of Jesus — and attorneys for the 15 women and one man announced the settlement Thursday. It comes two months after the Jesuits agreed to a record $50 million settlement stemming from abuses in Alaska.
The victims in Thursday's settlement had all boarded at the now-closed St. Mary's Mission and School on the Colville Indian Reservation. They say they were abused in the late 1960s and early 1970s by a Jesuit priest and a Jesuit brother.
"I am profoundly sorry for the pain and suffering of these people, and for the violation of trust, which they have felt," said the Very Rev. John Whitney, head of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which covers Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
"We hope that this settlement can be the beginning of a healing process by which these survivors and the whole community can become stronger and more at peace."
Most of the $4.8 million will be covered by insurance, Whitney said. The province is planning to pay for the rest by selling stocks and other investments.
The settlement also calls for the Jesuits to raise at least $200,000 over the next year for homeless services in the Omak area — an issue on the reservation, said Michael Pfau of Seattle, an attorney for the victims. The agreement "compensates the victims and helps people on the reservation," he said.
The victims, who ranged in age from about 7 to 12 when the abuses happened, say they were abused by the Rev. John Morse and Brother James Gates. Morse, who lives in a Jesuit community in Spokane, denies the allegations, according to the Oregon Province.
Gates, who belongs to the Detroit Province, lives in a Jesuit community in Michigan, the Oregon Province said.
Allegations of past sexual abuse by Jesuit priests and brothers have come from around the province, including Washington state. But the bulk of the cases involved Jesuits who served in Alaska. So many cases have been filed that provincial leaders were considering filing for bankruptcy.
That's less likely to happen now that the province knows that insurance is covering much of the recent settlements.
In November, the province agreed to pay $50 million to 110 Alaska Natives — believed to be the largest settlement by a religious order in the Catholic Church abuse cases. Insurance is paying $45 million of that amount.
"The fact that we've had these settlements within a range we can manage means at least we have some breathing room," Whitney said.
But in exchange, the province agreed to give up its insurance coverage in Alaska, meaning it would have to bear all costs of any new cases filed against it in Alaska.
"It's a dangerous proposition but it was the way to get the settlement," Whitney said.
He said bankruptcy could be a possibility if many more cases come up, though "we're hopeful that the major part of the cases have been dealt with financially."
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