By Michael Martinez, CNN
The Society of Jesus’ Pacific Northwest unit and its insurers have agreed to pay a record $166.1 million to about 470 people who were sexually and psychologically abused as children by Jesuit priests from the 1940s to the 1990s, the victims’ attorneys said Friday.
Blaine Tamaki, an attorney in Yakima, Washington, described the payment as “the largest settlement between a religious order and abuse victims in the history of the United States.”
The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is now in federal bankruptcy court in Portland, Oregon, the attorneys said. Insurers will pay $118 million, and the Jesuits’ Pacific Northwest province will pay $48.1 million, Tamaki said.
“The $166.1 million is the largest settlement by a religious order in the history of the world,” Tamaki said. “Over 450 Native American children – infants, toddlers to teenagers – were sexually abused repeatedly, from rape to sodomy, for decades throughout the Northwest. Instead of teaching these children how to read and write, Jesuit priests were teaching them distrust and shame.
“Instead of teaching the Native American children the love of God, these Jesuit pedophile priests were molesting these young children,” Tamaki told reporters.
The Rev. Patrick Lee, provincial superior of the Jesuits’ Oregon Province, declined to comment on the settlement, citing in a written statement the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
“The province continues to work with the creditors committee to conclude the bankruptcy process as promptly as possible,” Lee said.
The settlement also asks the Jesuits to provide a written apology to the victims, Tamaki said.
The abuse primarily took place in Jesuit-operated mission schools and boarding schools on Indian reservations in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, and some of the children were abused by Jesuits serving in dioceses throughout the Northwest, Tamaki said.
Most of the abuse occurred in the 1960s, so many of the alleged victims are now in their late 40s and early 50s, Tamaki said.
None of the 57 Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse by the victims has been charged with any crimes, Tamika said. He added that less than a handful each of Jesuit brothers and nuns in the Jesuit schools also are accused of child sexual abuse by the victims.
“This same province has settled claims before, but this is the big whopper,” Tamika told CNN.
The Jesuits’ Pacific Northwest province filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2009 after Tamaki filed 21 federal lawsuits against them in Washington and after another attorney, John Manly of Newport Beach, California, had spent years filing other child sex abuse lawsuits against the Jesuits’ regional unit, the attorneys said.
“There is no question that the number of cases filed, and the establishment of prolific abuse, triggered the bankruptcy,” Manly said in a statement. He represented almost 200 claims out of Alaska.
During the press conference Friday, Manly told reporters that the settlement was “a small step for this country recognizing the holocaust that occurred to Native Americans at these boarding schools.
“What you had at these boarding schools was nothing less than a Slobodan Milosevic-style cultural assassination using rape as an offensive weapon to control people,” he said. “They can deny it, they can pretend like it didn’t happen, they can minimize it, but that’s what it is.”
One abuse victim, Katherine (Hansen) Mendez, 53, was abused as a child at St. Mary’s Mission boarding school in Omak, Washington, according to a statement issued by Tamaki.
Mendez, a Yakama tribal member who didn’t attend Friday’s press conference, was 11 when she was sent to St. Mary’s Mission by a state foster worker and was abused for a year by the Jesuit priest who ran the school, she said in the statement.
“I kept the sexual molestation hidden in the dark, in my soul, for years and years. Finally, when I came forward and saw that others did too, it was as if the blanket that had hidden our secret was pulled off and we could move into the light again,” Mendez said in a statement.
Another victim, Clarita Vargas, a member of the Colville tribe in Washington, attended Friday’s press conference and told reporters that she attended the same boarding school from second to eighth grade during the 1960s and early 1970s.
She said the same Jesuit priest held a movie night in his private office and quarters, and “he would purposely select a child to molest,” Vargas said.
“I was a victim of physical and sexual abuse by one of the priests,” Vargas said.
About the settlement, she said, “It’s a day of reckoning and justice. … This will continue to allow us on a path for healing. There is a generational trauma in Indian country.”
She later added: “When I think about how important this is to us, I can only say my spirit was wounded and this makes it feel better.”
Thirty-eight of the claims handled by Tamaki involve sexual abuse by a Jesuit priest who resides in a private retirement facility financed by the Jesuits, Tamaki said.
Forty-nine of the almost 100 victims represented by Tamaki were sexually abused when they were 8 years old or younger, he said. The remaining victims were ages 9 to 14 during the abuse, he said.
Most of the victims were abused during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s at reservation mission schools, including Sacred Heart Mission in Desmet, Idaho; St. Ignatius Mission in St. Ignatius, Montana; St. Paul’s Mission in Hayes, Montana; and St. Labre Mission in Ashland, Montana, Tamaki said.
Theo Lawrence, who attended St. Ignatius Mission, had wanted to talk with reporters Friday, but he died this past week, Tamaki said in statement.
Lawrence was in third grade when the molestation began allegedly by a priest and a nun who worked with the Jesuit missionaries, according to Tamaki.
Before he died, Lawrence provided a statement for Friday’s press conference: “The nun or one of the brothers would send me to the rectory to see (the priest). He would give me candy or call me special – and then he would molest me. They all did at various times,” his statement said.
Lawrence said that he was scared to tell anyone because all of the boys were told repeatedly that “men of God don’t talk. We were scared that if we uttered even one word, we would go to hell,” his statement said.