Alleged Church Abuse Victims Speak out

Fox 12
March 4, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. -- At least four people who said they were sexually abused by Jesuit priests told a bankruptcy court about their experience on Tuesday.

All those pursuing claims against the Society of Jesus Oregon Province had their state court cases halted when the Jesuits filed for bankruptcy last month. The federal bankruptcy court in Portland is just beginning the process of valuing the assets of the Jesuits and distributing them.

"What I'd like is for them to make sure, somehow, that this stops happening. Because I'm not sure it has. They need to do something to the Jesuits, to make sure this never happens again," alleged victim Mike Atkinson said.

Atkinson said he was sexually abused by a Jesuit priest from Seattle University, who befriended his family. His younger and older brothers also claim the same priest, who is now dead, abused them too when they were children.

Sonneck became the first plaintiff in a sexual abuse case brought last year against a different priest on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho.

When two other women saw the story, they recalled their experience with the same priest while they were children, playing in an empty church.

"I remember looking out the window, realizing that everyone else was outside, and I was alone in his quarters. I can't remember everything, but I know he broke boundaries with me," alleged victim Alberta Sena said.

The women's lawyer said there's evidence the problem priests were moved from place to place rather than disciplined by the church or the Jesuit Order so there are a large number of victims.

They've asked for $10 million, for each woman. Those cases are on hold now that the Jesuits have filed for bankruptcy.

The leader of the Jesuits Oregon Province said bankruptcy is the only way to reach a fair settlement, because 200 additional cases are pending or threatened.

He said the Oregon Province has settled more than 200 claims, totaling more than $25 million, since 2001.

Jesuit High School in southwest Portland is not financially impacted by the suits or bankruptcy of the province of Jesuit priests.

Administrators of the school sent a message to parents after the bankruptcy filing that said there are no claims pending against any Jesuit high school priest.

The Jesuit Province helps staff the school, but the province does not own any of the school's assets.

Atkinson said he'll leave it to psychologists and the bankruptcy court to put a price on his experience.

"It's been a burden, a deep and abiding burden of shame you carry with you throughout your life. A secret you never share," Atkinson said.

Sena said the case is making her, and others, stronger.

"(I want) to show others that it is not shameful because it happened, and we can't change it. We can do something about it now," Sena said.

The bankruptcy could take years to settle. It took that long to sort out the Spokane and Portland bankruptcy settlements.


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