Northwest Jesuits to Pay $166.1 Million to Native Abuse Victims

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The long journey for justice is over for approximately 450 victims who were sexually abused as children by Jesuit Missionaries in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon, in the 1940s through the 1990s.
The landmark settlement was announced March 25. It is the largest settlement between a religious order and sexual abuse victims in the history of the United States. The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province (the Northwest chapter of the Society of Jesus, a religious order based on Rome, Italy), and its insurer will pay $166.1 million, and also requires the Jesuits to provide a written apology to the victims, and produce documents regarding their knowledge of the abuse that took place on their watch. {mospagebreak}

The majority of the abuse took place in Jesuit operated mission schools, boarding schools, and on Indian reservations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Some Jesuits abused children while stationed in dioceses throughout the Northwest.
The pay out of $166.1 million will go to to roughly 450 complainants, all Native Americans from tribes across the Northwest, including some Native Alaskans. Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki, of Tamaki Law, is representing 90 victims, the largest single group of complainants, which will receive $30 million, or about $330,000 each. The order has also agreed to no longer call the victims "alleged victims," to write apologies to them and to enforce new practices designed to prevent abuse, according to plaintiffs' attorneys.
In February 2009, shortly after Tamaki Law filed 21 federal court lawsuits in the Eastern District of Washington against the Jesuits, the Northwest Jesuits filed for bankruptcy protection in Portland, Oregon. The bankruptcy filing prompted more victims to come forward. Judge Elizabeth Perris presides over the Portland bankruptcy case. This is the first time any Jesuit province has filed for bankruptcy.
When told the news of the settlement, Katherine Mendez, age 53, who was abused as a child at St. Mary's Mission boarding school in Omak, Washington, expressed a feeling of relief. Mendez, a Yakama tribal member, was 11 when she was sent to St. Mary's Mission by a state foster worker, and was abused until she was 12 years old. Mendez is one of the lawsuit clients and the first to come forward and said she felt compelled to take action after reading newspaper accounts of other victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
"Fr. Morse (a Jesuit priest) started abusing me almost immediately, right when I arrived at St. Mary's Mission," Mendez said. "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."
Thirty-eight of the claims involve sexual abuse by Fr. John Morse. Morse currently resides in a private retirement facility operated by Gonzaga University and financed by the Jesuits. Forty-nine of the victims were sexually abused when they were 8 years old or younger. The remaining victims were age 9 to 14 when the abuse occurred. Most were abused in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's at reservation mission schools, including: St. Mary's Mission, Omak, Washington; Sacred Heart Mission, Desmet, Idaho; St. Ignatius Mission, St. Ignatius, Montana; St. Paul's Mission, Hayes, Montana; and St. Labre Mission, Ashland, Montana.
According to Tamaki, "This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care, and inflicted terrible atrocities upon them. These religious figures were responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them."
Theo Lawrence from St. Ignatius Mission in Montana was molested by Fr. Augustine Ferretti, aka Father Freddy and by Jesuits who served with Fr. Freddy, and by a nun who worked with the Jesuit missionaries. He was in the third grade when the molestation began. "The nun or one of the Brothers would send me to the Rectory to see Fr. Freddy. He would give me candy or call me special – and then he would molest me. They all did at various times," Lawrence said.
Lawrence also 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."
Lawrence tried never to cry in front of his perpetrators. It was the one satisfaction he had as his abusers tried to break him. "They tried everything to break our spirits. I remember being beaten on the back of my hands often with a piece of a chair that was broken off. My bones were bent and I could not close my right hand for years, but I tried with all my heart not to let them see me cry."
Tamaki said that few Americans truly understand how devastating the process of "assimilation" was for Native American families. "Sometimes children were literally pried from the arms of their parents and taken to the remote mission schools where their hair was cut, they were put into white-man's clothes, could not utter their Native language without receiving harsh punishments, and were forced to pray to a Catholic God," Tamaki said. "The children had to comply, or they were told they would not go to Heaven – something they feared greatly. These children were told "kill the Indian, save the man."
The settlement in its final form also contains non-monetary damages, such as the right of victims to attain health records from the Jesuits, and recognition by Jesuits of wrongdoing that was done.