Northwest Jesuits Settle Massive Sexual Abuse Lawsuit for $166 Million

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For more than 30 years from the 1950s through the 1980s, priests at Jesuit schools, churches, and missions molested children in the Pacific Northwest's poorest communities. And after settling hundreds of cases for around $55 million, but still facing hundreds more, the Oregon Province of the Jesuits filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving future payouts in question. Today, however, the religious order settled the remaining cases in bankruptcy court for a record $166 million--the third-largest payout in history for a Catholic sex-abuse case.

Veteran Seattle Weekly reporter Nina Shapiro wrote about the ongoing settlement fight in a feature article early last year.

And even though the $166 million payout is a landmark figure, it's nowhere near the $600 million figure that one Seattle lawyer had boasted he'd be able to fetch.

From Shapiro's story:

In the case of the Oregon Province bankruptcy, attorneys have assembled roughly 600 alleged victims--most of them Native Americans--who lay claim to a share of the Jesuits' assets. One Seattle lawyer working on the case, Timothy Kosnoff, has set his sights on winning in excess of $1 million per person.

Still, the settlement is certainly a large one. The Jesuits' Oregon Province, which covers Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, will also write a letter of apology to victims of abuse and be forced to share with victims documents relating to the abuse.

Michael Pfau, another Seattle-based lawyer who worked with Kosnoff on the sexual abuse cases, tells Seattle Weekly today that the settlement delivers a "real sense of justice" for victims who have labored for years to see the church that violated them repeatedly held accountable.

"This settlement will help the healing process with both Native American and white victims," he says. "When you look at the hundreds of victims, they were some of the poorest children in the region; it's wonderful there is a positive end for them."

In Washington, the abuse was centered at the St. Mary's Mission and School, which hugs the Colville Indian Reservation near Omak. There, around 60 victims have said that clergy members sexually abused them for years.

The settlement also answers the question of whether Jesuit universities like Gonzaga and Seattle University would have to dip into their own coffers to pay victims. Lawyers had originally said the schools were liable since they were connected to the Oregon Province, but they abandoned that nation in the current settlement and the schools will be spared from using their own funds for the payout.

Of course, the only ones who might be happier than the victims about the huge award are the lawyers who represented them. Typically lawyers take around a third of any settlement offer, so a $55 million fee is certainly not bad for a few years' work.

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