|Washington Woman Says Jesuit Priest Abuse "Every Single Day ... Was a Nightmare"
By Kimberly A.C. Wilson
March 25, 2011
For 40 years, Katherine Mendez kept the story of her abuse at the hands of a Jesuit priest to herself.
But the details were never far from mind: She had been 11 years old when she was raped at St. Mary's Mission School in Omak, Wash., moments after she scuffled with another student and then brought into the office of Father John J. Morse.
The sexual abuse continued from sixth grade into eighth grade, she said.
And even after Mendez left the school and moved in with a foster family in Selah, 200 miles away, the priest tracked her down to continue the abuse.
"Every day, every single day, it was a nightmare," Mendez said today. "I was always looking over my shoulder."
This morning, three years after she came forward as the initial plaintiff in a 21-plaintiff federal lawsuit in Spokane against priests from St. Mary’s -- a suit filed three months before the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus declared bankruptcy -- Mendez, now 55, is poised for a measure of justice.
The Northwest's Jesuits and their insurers agreed to pay $166.1 million in a bankruptcy settlement aimed at compensating nearly 500 people with active claims of sexual abuse by priests in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, including Mendez.
Mendez said she was torn over the settlement, one of the largest ever made by a religious organization in the United States to abuse victims.
"The bankruptcy declaration seemed like a cheat," she said. "I was really a victim of child rape. There was no face-to-face justice where I could see the accusations brought out in public, to say, 'He's the one who raped me.'"
Father Morse, accused in the lawsuit of abusing boys and girls at St. Mary's between 1967 and 1973, showed up at her home years after the abuse ended and tried to talk to her, she said. "It was a strange visit and it was also frightening to me," she said.
He is alive and living at the Jesuit retreat at Gonzaga University in Spokane, according to an official at the Tamaki law firm, which respresents Mendez and other plaintiffs. Details of the settlement don't call for the accused priests to be held responsible, she said.
"But I feel that it's finally beginning to be the end," Mendez said. "It's been a long struggle emotionally."
The settlement marks the start of a lengthy process in which a retired judge will sort through the claims to determine how to allocate the funds. Mendez, a former family and community advocate with Head Start in Wapato, Wash., has plans for her share of the money.
"I'll make sure I get good counseling," she said. "I know I still need more."
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