Jesuit Sex Abuse Victims Hope to Advise Judge

By Kristian Foden-vencil
OPB News
March 4, 2009

[with audio]

People who say they were sexually assaulted by Jesuit priests, met in Portland Tuesday to try and get onto a committee.

The committee will advise a bankruptcy judge on everything from how to find others who’ve been abused, to how much survivors should be compensated.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the case is running through bankruptcy court because so many survivors have come forward.

Over the last few years the local Jesuit order, The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, has settled about 200 claims of sexual abuse. From Alaska to Washington, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

But when the claims just kept coming, the Jesuit order decided the fairest way to settle all of them was to file bankruptcy.

That way, it reasoned, the court could determine how much money it had, and then split it fairly between people like Alberta Sena who says she was abused.

Alberta Sena: “Well to be honest I don’t remember everything. And I do remember only one incident, there could have been more.”

Alberta Sena was about 10 years old and living on the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho, when she says she was abused. It happened after a bunch of kids asked her to play hide and seek in the nearby Sacred Heart Church.

Alberta Sena: “I ended up alone in a dark room and then pretty soon I remember looking out a window and all the other kids were outside and I was inside. And to be honest I just remember being naked and I just know that what he did was wrong.”

Sena’s emotions are still raw. She says she really only recognized the abuse for what it was after a childhood friend came forward.

Mia Sonneck told authorities recently that A.J. Ferretti, or Father Freddy as he was known, raped her when she was about seven by bouncing her violently on his lap.

Alberta Sena: “For me it’s always been in the back of my mind. Knowing that something happened but not knowing what. Because I remember that day specifically.”

Sena traveled to Portland Tuesday along with Sonneck and a half-dozen other abuse survivors. Some survivors will be picked to be on an advisory panel for the bankruptcy judge.

Sena’s attorney, Leander James, says they’ll help determine many aspects of the case: from a cut-off date for claims; to trying to find other people who’ve been abused.

Leander James: “Maybe you should have them state it from the pulpit, maybe you should have them publish it at churches. Maybe you should have them send letters to each of the enrolled Native Americans in each tribe. Maybe you should have lists of boys who were at the prep schools, if we have lists of their addresses, the notice should be sent there. There could be a whole variety of mechanisms to send notice out.”

U.S. Trustee Vivien Popperl will pick the committee over the next few days.

Attorney’s for the Northwest Jesuits were at the courthouse but wouldn’t talk publicly.

They’re not objecting to the committee, but they want to be able to respond to its recommendations. In a press release the Jesuits say Chapter 11 bankruptcy is the only way all claimants can receive a fair settlement.

They also say they have less than $5 million in assets.

But that depends on what is counted as belonging to the order.


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