|Oregon Jesuit Province Files for Bankruptcy
By Mary Beth Smetzer
February 18, 2009
FAIRBANKS — The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code on Tuesday in response to mounting sexual abuse of children claims.
The filing makes the Oregon Province Jesuits the first major religious order to do so.
The bankruptcy petition was filed Tuesday in Portland Federal Bankruptcy Court in reaction to an additional 200 claims of sexual abuse of primarily Alaskan children, pending or threatened against Oregon province Jesuits.
There are 235 Jesuit priests and brothers ministering throughout the Oregon province which encompasses five states — Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — with seven serving in Alaska.
The decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one, said the Rev. Patrick J. Lee, Oregon Province Jesuits provincial, in a statement released early Tuesday evening.
“It is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province,” he said.
“Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our province’s history to an end,” Lee said. “We continue to pray for all those who have been hurt by the actions of a few men, so that they can receive the healing and reconciliation that they deserve.”
In November 2007, the province paid out $50 million to 110 claimants, the largest settlement to date by a religious order.
According to Lee’s statement, since 2001 the province has settled more than 200 claims and paid in excess of $25 million from its own resources, which does not include additional payments made by Oregon Province insurers.
“Chapter 11 will allow the Oregon Province to resolve pending claims, manage its financial situation and continue its various ministries in the Northwest in which it has been engaged since 1831,” Lee said.
Advocates for victims claim the Oregon province has other unspoken motives to declare bankruptcy.
David Clohessy, national director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said, “Bankruptcy protects the truth from coming out. It not only supports predators but every church official who turned a blind eye, shredded evidence, intimidated victims, threatened witnesses, fabricated alibis and helped child molesters flee the country or escape justice.
“Literally none of that ever gets disclosed in bankruptcy. The judge fixates solely on how to divvy up the dollars; and discoveries and depositions and testimony in open court basically doesn’t happen.”
Clohessy called the bankruptcy filing “a morally irresponsible and selfish decision designed solely to protect the reputations of complicit church officials who ignored or concealed knowledge and suspicions of horrific child sex crimes,” he said.
Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa said the Jesuit bankruptcy filing is “ultimately an acknowledgment of what we have been saying for years is true, that Alaska was used as a dumping ground for problem priests and by filing bankruptcy they can shut off once and for all the plaintiffs opportunity to gain discovery and get evidence of what was going on here.”
“Now, no one will get access to (Jesuit) archives ever again. The bankruptcy protects them in so many ways,” Roosa said. “This wouldn’t have happened if there weren’t so many children that have been harmed.”
From a client perspective, Roosa said the filing is a victory that sooner, rather than later, there will be a settlement for victims and some measure for justice for them.
Another victims’ attorney, John C. Manly of California, said hundreds of the “most vulnerable children in the United States” were sexually molested by members of the international religious order who were sent to Alaska.
“After five years of litigation, we have exposed at least 28 alleged perpetrators in 11 Jesuit provinces and five countries” Manly said.
“Were it not for the bravery of the victims, many of these men would still be perpetrating and hiding in secret.”
On March 1, the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese, a Jesuit mission, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to settle with more than a hundred claimants.
The number of claimants more than doubled when the court required the bishop to advertise for anyone harmed by the church to step forward.
Roosa expects the same procedure to be followed in the Oregon Province bankruptcy and the outcome might again drive the number of victims up exponentially since the province includes five states.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.
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