Jesuits Settle Omak Abuse Cases

By John Stucke
January 4, 2008

The Jesuits have agreed to pay $4.8 million to 16 people who were sexually abused as schoolchildren by priests on the Colville Indian Reservation in the 1960s and early 1970s. The abuse happened at the Catholic order's St. Mary's Mission and School near Omak.

The allegations involve two Jesuits, John J. Morse, a priest now living in Spokane, and James Gates, a Jesuit brother living in Michigan.

The settlement also calls on the Jesuits to raise at least $200,000 within a year to pay for a homeless shelter or homeless services in the Omak area.

The Rev. John D. Whitney, provincial superior of the Oregon Society of Jesus, apologized for the egregious acts and called the abuse a violation of special trust between Jesuits and Native Americans.

"I'm sorry for the pain and suffering this has caused," he said. "We can only now hope for healing."

The Oregon Province oversees Jesuit activities in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Alaska.

Morse denies the allegations, though he was removed from ministry in 2006. He had been working in the Diocese of Yakima and was pulled from his position with Our Lady of Fatima in Moses Lake.

Both men are living under what the Jesuit leadership referred to as a "safety plan," which requires them to be escorted when they leave their residence building.

With this latest settlement the Jesuits have now paid about $73 million to settle 194 sex abuse allegations. The numbers include $50 million paid to more than 100 Alaska Natives who said they were victimized by 15 Jesuit priests, brothers and others who were sent to villages.

There have been other settlements in Washington state, including four relating to former Gonzaga University president John P. Leary.

Leary, who died in 1993, was chased from Spokane in April 1969 after renewed allegations that he had sexually abused young boys.

Spokane police delivered a 24-hour ultimatum to the influential community and religious leader that year: Leave town or face arrest. He left under what Whitney has called an "artificial scenario" that stated Leary had resigned for health reasons during a trip to the East Coast.

The Jesuits' problems in Spokane have been handled separately from those of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

The diocese, besieged by dozens of sex abuse claims and lawsuits spanning many decades, filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2004. The case was resolved in 2007 with a $48 million settlement that resolved 176 claims of sex abuse by clergy.

Whitney said the Oregon Province has considered filing for bankruptcy, but with about 11 claims outstanding, believes that it may be able to meet the financial demands of this devastating chapter of Jesuit history.

The Jesuits have nearly drained all of their investment funds to pay settlements.

"We're running pretty close to the line," Whitney said. "If bankruptcy becomes necessary, we will be prepared, though it is not imminent in any way."


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