Deal Reported in Abuse Cases

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times
November 19, 2007

Attorneys for more than a hundred people who say they were victims of abuse involving Jesuits in Alaska announced Sunday they have reached a $50 million settlement with the regional Jesuit province, though the Jesuits would neither confirm nor deny the settlement.

The 110 people, all Alaska Natives, said they were abused by 15 Jesuit priests, brothers or those supervised by Jesuits from about 1961 to 1987, said Ken Roosa, their Anchorage-based attorney.

Roosa said his clients ranged in age from about 5 to 16 when they were abused and said the abuse occurred in remote villages along the coast of Western Alaska and along the Yukon River.

"In some villages, it is difficult to find an adult who was not sexually violated by men who used religion and power" to abuse and silence the children, Roosa said in a statement. "For our clients, this settlement represents a long overdue acknowledgment of the truth of their stories of abuse."

Officials at the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province — the formal name of the Jesuits in the Northwest — said Sunday that any settlement announcement would be premature since details had yet to be worked out.

"While the Jesuits have been dedicated to finding a just and timely solution to these cases, it is my understanding that there are still many issues that need to be finalized before it is appropriate to make an official announcement about a settlement," the Very Rev. John Whitney, head of the Oregon Province, said in a statement.

But Roosa provided to The Seattle Times a copy of an e-mail sent Friday from Richard Hansen, a lawyer for the Oregon Province working on the Alaska cases. The e-mail refers to "draft settlement documents" and says "there still is a good deal of work to do," but also says: "This e-mail will confirm that a settlement has been reached. ... The settlement calls for $50,000,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs/claimants." Hansen could not immediately be reached for comment.

The settlement is "long overdue to begin with, and it's disappointing that the society won't even acknowledge their own agreement," Roosa said.

The lawsuits also named the Diocese of Fairbanks, which owned and managed the churches in the villages where the Jesuit priests, brothers and volunteers were assigned, the victims' attorneys said. The Fairbanks Diocese has not settled, and negotiations continue.

In the past several years, many cases have been filed against the Jesuits in the Northwest, and the province has considered filing for bankruptcy. It is not clear how Sunday's announcement would affect any bankruptcy decision.

Excluding the Sunday announcement, the Oregon Province — which includes Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Idaho — has spent about $16 million to settle claims with 61 victims against 41 priests since 2002.

In Washington state, there have been several settlements, including those involving the Revs. Michael Toulouse and Englebert Axer, both former professors at Seattle University, and against the Rev. John Leary, former president of Gonzaga University. All three men are deceased.

Most of the cases filed against the Oregon Province have involved those serving in Alaska. For years the Jesuits had sent priests to serve in remote Alaskan villages, and some victims' attorneys have contended that Alaska was where Jesuit leaders sent troubled priests — a contention Whitney, head of the Oregon Province, has vehemently denied.

The victims' attorneys said the $50 million settlement is the largest against a religious order in the recent Catholic Church abuse cases.

But Whitney said in his statement on Sunday that "we are very disappointed by today's actions by the plaintiffs' attorneys, which we see as premature and detrimental to the work of healing about which we are all concerned.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or


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