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Jesuits Bankruptcy Settlement

Jun 20, 2011 | Sexual Abuse

The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province (commonly referred to as “the Jesuits”), has agreed to pay $166 million to settle the claims of hundreds of victims of clergy sexual abuse.  The claims span a 30-year period, from the 1950s to the 1980s, and include victims across a five-state region, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

Seattle sexual abuse attorney Michael Pfau, a partner in our firm, represents a large number of the victims who came forward both before and after the bankruptcy was filed.  We are currently helping those clients navigate the bankruptcy process, and per the bankruptcy settlement, we are also helping other victims who are just now learning about the bankruptcy and/or settlement.

This rest of this page provides an overview of the settlement agreement.  After you read this page, there are links on the left-hand side that will take you to other pages that provide an explanation of the next steps that are most likely for our current clients, and information for people who are interested in coming forward to file their own claim.  The information on this website is for information purposes, only, and we encourage our clients and potential clients to contact Michael Pfau directly for the most up-to-date information available.

Overview of Jesuit Settlement

The Jesuit settlement with more than 500 individual claims, the result of over a year of negotiations, is believed to be the single-largest, clergy sex-abuse bankruptcy settlement in the United States.  Under the terms of the proposed settlement agreement, approximately 70 percent of compensation will come from insurance assets.  The remaining 30 percent will be paid directly by the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province.

While the payment plans are still being worked-out, the tentative agreement proposes that all claimants, including those who are not presently represented by an attorney, will be allowed to choose between two payment allocation plans.  It also proposes that claimants have the option to share their personal stories with a claims reviewer who will be selected by representatives from the steering committee.  For many, this will be an opportunity to talk about what happened to them and how it affected their lives.

This process is similar to a process Michael Pfau helped negotiate after the Spokane Diocese declared bankruptcy, where he represented over 100 victims of clergy sexual abuse, and it is aimed at accomplishing similar goals.   While all of our clients came forward because they want to hold the Jesuit leadership accountable for decades of bad decisions, an important part of the healing process is allowing them to take ownership of what happened and share their story.  This process should provide our clients with a means to do so.

Filed in February 2009, the case revealed a shocking number of abuse victims on Native American reservations in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, where the Jesuits ran boarding schools until the mid-1970s.  Dozens of victims also came forward from remote villages in Alaska, including many who were orphans or were placed under the care of the Jesuits because their parents were too poor to take care of them.

The victims represent some of the poorest and most vulnerable children in the Pacific Northwest.  Our firm long suspected the Jesuits used remote villages in Alaska and small towns near reservations in the Pacific Northwest as a place to send  its abusive and problem priests, including known pedophiles.  In our cases leading-up to the bankruptcy, and during the bankruptcy, evidence and personal stories emerged that show the Native American children paid the heavy price for that reckless disregard of children and others.

The sheer number of victims suggests the problem was endemic throughout the five-state region.  More than 500 men and women came forward and documented the sexual abuse they allegedly suffered.  While dozens of Jesuit priests and authority figures are implicated in the scandal, accusations against some priests were staggering.  For example, more than sixty-six individual claims were filed over allegations of sexual abuse by Father Morse, a Jesuit priest who served at St Mary’s Mission near Omak Washington.

Other Jesuit abusers sought refuge at college campuses.   For example, a number of boys have accused the late Reverend John Leary, a former president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, of sexually abusing them during his tenure at the school.

Meanwhile, some of our clients alleged that after he was accused of molesting a young boy in Spokane, Jesuit officials secretly moved a popular and charismatic priest, Reverend Michael T. Toulouse, to Seattle University.  While at that school, Toulouse sexually abused the boys in his car, on trips and at various parishes throughout the Seattle area.  In 2005, Michael Pfau successfully convinced Jesuit officials at the school to discontinue an honorary Toulouse memorial lecture series after he confronted them with new allegations of sexual abuse by the priest.

Although the bankruptcy court has lifted a confidentiality order on the tentative settlement, it will likely take several months before the Jesuits begin to compensate victims.  The settlement must first be approved by a sufficient majority of individual claimants, and then by the bankruptcy court.  The settlement agreement also contemplates compensation for victims who have not yet come forward.  While every case is different, it is often difficult for victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward because it means they must confront a part of their life that they have been trying to put behind them.

The settlement agreement will resolve claims against the Oregon Province, but it does not end claims against other Jesuit institutions that chose not to participate in the settlement negotiations.  For example, Jesuit colleges Gonzaga University and Seattle University refused to participate because they claimed their assets were separate from the Oregon Province, even though both schools are operated by the Jesuits.

After the settlement, both colleges will still face claims and lawsuits, including a trial involving eight boys molested by Father Michael Toulouse.