Oregon Jesuit province to pay $166 million to abuse victims

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Oregon province of the Society of Jesus has agreed to pay $166.1 million to about 500 people abused by Jesuit priests at schools in the Pacific Northwest in past decades.

Most of the abuse took place from the 1950s to the 1980s, but some of the cases date back to the late 1940s.

The claims were primarily from Alaska natives and Native Americans who said they were abused as children by priests at the order’s schools in remote Alaskan villages and U.S. Indian reservations. The Portland-based providence serves Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

The settlement, which is part of the Oregon province’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, was announced March 25 in Portland. The province also agreed to publicize the names of the abusers, issue a written apology to victims, and provide personal and medical records of about 140 priests and brothers accused.

Under the terms of the settlement, the province will pay $48.1 million. The order’s insurer will pay $118 million and about $6 million will be reserved for any future claims.

Jesuit Father Patrick Lee, provincial superior, said in a March 25 statement that because of the province’s current bankruptcy status and “out of respect for the judicial process and all involved,” he would not comment on the settlement announcement. “The province continues to work with the creditors committee to conclude the bankruptcy process as promptly as possible,” he said.

In 2009, the province filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing pending lawsuits over clergy sexual abuse claims.

After the federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy proceedings set a Nov. 30 deadline that year for filing abuse claims, lawyers and survivors of abuse traveled throughout the Northwest urging victims to come forward. The province’s website also provided the form needed to file a claim.

Before the $166.1 million settlement was reached, the Jesuits had already spent about $25 million since 2001 to settle 200 abuse claims, according to the province.

The new settlement is one of the largest in church clergy abuse cases. In 2007, the Los Angeles Archdiocese agreed to pay $660 million to 508 victims. That same year, the Diocese of San Diego and the Diocese of San Bernardino, which broke off from its southern neighbor in 1978, agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 victims.

The settlement does not include assets from Jesuit-run schools such as Gonzaga University, Gonzaga Preparatory School and Seattle University. During bankruptcy hearings, the two university presidents said their institutions were completely separate from the province.

When the province filed bankruptcy, Father Lee said the decision was the only way “that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province.” He also said he hoped it could “begin to bring this sad chapter in our province’s history to an end.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.