|New Catholic Society Settles Landmark Sex Abuse Case with Native Americans
March 25, 2011
YAKIMA, Wash. -- In a settlement that's being called historic, an order of Roman Catholic priests has agreed to pay $166.1 million to roughly 450 Native Americans who were sexually abused by priests.
Itís the largest settlement in history between a single religious order and victims of sexual abuse, according to attoneys involved in the case.
In the settlement, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, also agreed to issue written apologies to each victim and produce documentation that the religious order was aware of the abuse.
Attorneys from across the Northwest representing the victims, a handful of whom are Yakama tribal members, announced the settlement this morning.
Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki is representing the largest group of complainants ó 90. That group will receive $30 million from the settlement.
According to the lawsuit, victims suffered sexual abuse at boarding schools run by the religious order in Washington, Idaho and Montana over a period spanning the 1950s through the 1970s.
"This is by far the worst case Iíve been involved in," said Tamaki, whose lead complainant, Kathy Mendez of Wapato, initiated the case more than two years ago.
The lawsuit was filed in February 2009 in U.S. District Court after Mendez, a Cowlitz tribal member and Yakama descendent, came forward.
Mendez, 53, attended St. Maryís Mission near Omak when she was 11 years old. She said sexual abuse by a particular priest led her to run away several times.
She said she was called into his office, and how spankings with her panties down quickly led to sexual acts by the priest.
Eventually, more than a year later, she was able to leave the mission and live with her adult sister in Yakima.
She said she felt compelled to come forward after reading newspaper reports about other victims of sexual abuse at the hand of priests.
"I thought I was the only one," she said. "I was just in shock."
She said the settlement will allow her and other victims to finally begin putting the abuses behind them.
"Iím really relieved that itís finally over," she said. "It was really drawn out. It was hard going through that."
The Society of Jesus operated St. Maryís Mission and School for more than 60 years. Although the Society filed bankruptcy after being hit with the lawsuits, it will sell off assets to pay $48.1 million toward the settlement while its insurer will pay the remaining $118 million.
Tamaki said the abuse suffered by Native Americans has received little attention.
"This is the first time that it has been revealed that these atrocities happened to Native American students," he said.
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