|Northwest Jesuits Will Pay $166 Million to Sex Abuse Victims in Bankruptcy Settlement
By Bryan Denson
March 25, 2011
The Northwest's Jesuits and their insurers have agreed to pay $166.1 million in a bankruptcy settlement aimed at compensating nearly 500 people with active claims of sexual abuse by priests.
The payout is one of the largest ever made by a religious organization in the United States to abuse victims. The settlement, part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is designed to restore financial stability to the Portland-based province.
Lawyers representing creditors in the case announced the settlement this morning at news conferences across the region.
"It's a day of reckoning and justice and I feel that nothing can compensate for the loss of being whole and being allowed to be a child and growing up in a healthy environment," said Clarita Vargas of the Colville Tribe, an abuse victim and spokeswoman for other victims. "But this will start us and continue to help us on our path to healing."
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris in Portland has been informed of the settlement and is aware of today's announcement, said lawyer Blaine Tamaki.
Creditors include about 460 people with sexual-abuse claims against priests and another 15 or 20 with physical-abuse claims, Tamaki said. They are expected to vote in favor of the settlement some time in the next 45 days, with payments likely reaching them by early fall, he said.
Tamaki's firm, headquartered in Yakima, represents nearly 100 people who he says were sexually abused in Washington and Montana.
"For them, it's a record-breaking settlement and a day of justice for Native Americans who were sexually molested," he said. "This is the highest settlement in the history of the United States paid by a religious order to victims. Instead of teaching these children the love of God, the pedophile priests were teaching them shame and distress."
"Some of these victims have waited nearly 40 years for this day of justice," Tamaki said. "It's overdue."
Under terms of the global settlement, the Northwest's Jesuits, formally known as the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, will pay $48.1 million and their insurer will pay $118 million. About $6 million from the settlement will go into a pool for future claims, he said.
Public records identify Safeco as the insurer in the case.
The terms also call for the province to write an apology to abuse victims and provide them with documents, such as their personal medical records.
The province declined comment on the settlement "out of respect for the judicial process and all involved."
"The province continues to work with the Creditors Committee to conclude the bankruptcy process as promptly as possible," the Rev. Patrick Lee, head of the Northwest's Jesuits, said in a statement.
The settlement does not dismiss 37 lawsuits filed last month against entities, including Jesuit High School and Gonzaga University, on behalf of abuse victims. Those lawsuits were seeking about $3.1 million that the province had paid out prior to declaring bankruptcy two years ago.
In addition, the settlement does not include five to seven claims the lawyers are pursuing against two other insurers for the Jesuits -- Travelers Insurance and Atlantic Mutual.
Lawyers representing the province's creditors said most were Native Americans abused as children at Jesuit-run missions and boarding schools across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. About 200 of them were molested by Jesuit priests in Alaska, where the clergymen held powerful positions in remote villages.
Some of the priests responsible for rapes and molestations worked in Roman Catholic dioceses across the province, which covers Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho and Alaska. Some of the abuse occurred as far back as the 1940s.
A long-dead Jesuit priest named Michael Toulouse was accused of a string of sexual assaults on young boys from 1948 to 1970. Jesuit leaders in Spokane sent Toulouse to Seattle after a distraught father came looking for him with a pistol. After Toulouse's death in 1976, Seattle University honored his memory with a lecture series in his name.
That series continued until 2005, when university officials, confronted by new sex-abuse allegations against the priest, discontinued the series.
Some of Toulouse's victims will be compensated as part of the settlement announced today.
The Northwest's Jesuits declared bankruptcy in February 2009 under a barrage of sex-abuse claims. From 2001 to 2009, the province paid $25 million in legal claims and faced roughly 200 additional claims in civil lawsuits or threatened legal action.
The bankruptcy was intended to bring an end to what leader of the region's Jesuits described at the time as "this sad chapter in our province's history."
About 33 percent to 40 percent of the settlement will go to lawyers' fees, attorneys said.
The median payout to victims will be $300,000, said John Manly, who negotiated the settlement with Tamaki and sharply criticized the Jesuit leadership for decades of abuse by their priests.
“Who knowingly puts a child in a position where a pedophile's going to have access to them and worse, gives the pedophile the title father?” Manly said. “It's spiritual incest.”
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