February 18, 2009 in City, Region

Jesuit province files for bankruptcy

Associated Press
 

PORTLAND, Ore. — Confronted by scores of lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests, the Jesuits of the Oregon Province have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The petition was filed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland. The province of the Roman Catholic order listed assets of less than $5 million and liabilities of almost $62 million.

“Our decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one, but with approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the Province,” The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, the current provincial, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. It is one of 10 provinces in the United States.

Many of the lawsuits involve Alaska Natives who say they were sexually abused as children while living in remote villages.

Ken Roosa, an Anchorage-based attorney who has filed claims on behalf of more than 60 Alaska Natives, said Tuesday night the Oregon Province is vastly underestimating its assets. He contended that the province owns Seattle and Gonzaga universities, as well as several high schools.

However, a recent posting on the Seattle University Web site quoted the university president, the Rev. Stephen Sundborg, as saying the university is “an independent entity that is legally separate from the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus does not own or operate Seattle University.”

Sundborg is a Jesuit priest.

A call for Gonzaga University comment late Tuesday night was referred to a spokesman who was out of the office until Monday.

Roosa said he believes the Oregon Jesuit province has assets of “more than a billion dollars.”

Roosa said he was ready to file another 40 lawsuits next week, but the bankruptcy filing will halt that action. Roosa said the Jesuits want the Chapter 11 filing to accomplish two things — give victims “less than 100 cents on the dollar” and establish a “bar date,” a firm date by which victims will have to come forward if they want to sue.

The Portland-based province contends it has worked “diligently” to resolve claims of misconduct, saying it has settled more than 200 claims and paid more than $25 million to victims since 2001. That amount does not include payments made by insurers.

“Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our Province’s history to an end,” Lee said. “We continue to pray for all those who have been hurt by the actions of a few men, so that they can receive the healing and reconciliation that they deserve.”

A spokesman for the Oregon Province said Lee would have no comment beyond the statement.

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