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Bankruptcy filing won’t affect GU, president says

Gonzaga University officials said Wednesday the school will not be affected by the bankruptcy filing of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, the Jesuit order that covers five Northwest states.

“Gonzaga was separately incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State in Washington in 1894,” Gonzaga’s president, the Rev. Robert Spitzer, wrote in a letter to supporters. “Gonzaga University’s assets are its own and not subject to others’ creditors.”

The university, with an enrollment of 7,211 students, has an annual operating budget of $190 million. The campus, with 96 buildings, stretches across 131 acres east of downtown Spokane. It is supported by an endowment that has been hard-hit by the recession and stock market plunge, falling from $153 million in May 2008 to $112 million by the end of December.

In their bankruptcy filing in Portland, the Jesuits contend they have assets of $4.8 million. Their listed liabilities totaled $61.8 million.

Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney representing more than 60 Alaska Natives who say they were sexually abused as children by Jesuits, said the Jesuit leadership is vastly underestimating its assets. He told the Associated Press the province owns Seattle and Gonzaga universities, as well as several high schools.

Al Falkner, president of Gonzaga Prep, sought to assure parents and supporters that the bankruptcy would not affect it, either.

The school separated from Gonzaga University in 1954. It receives no money from the Portland-based province, nor does it pay money to the province, Falkner wrote. Jesuit teachers’ salaries are paid by the school, he added.

Bankruptcy offers the Jesuits the ability to fully grasp the order’s financial exposure to clergy sex abuse.

The federal judge overseeing the case will establish a deadline for victims to file claims. This “bar date” is normally set after advertising campaigns and other methods are used to find victims.

After the deadline passes, the Jesuits will know the number of victims and can attempt to craft a cash settlement.

The number of victims could mushroom. That’s what happened in the bankruptcy case of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane that ended two years ago.

“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,” said the Very Rev. Patrick Lee, head of the province.

The Jesuits have already settled 200 sex abuse claims.

Among them, 110 were filed by Alaska Natives who settled for $50 million last year. About $45 million of that was paid by insurers.

Since those filings, another 63 Alaska Natives have filed suit. More claims are pending.

Victims and their attorneys have alleged that the Jesuits used Alaska as dumping ground for pedophile priests. At least one of those priests, James Poole, is housed by the Jesuits in Spokane.

Spokane Catholic Bishop William Skylstad has identified 12 Jesuit priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in his diocese. Most are deceased, but some live in the city.

John Allison, a Spokane attorney who represented 16 former St. Mary’s Mission students who were sexually abused by Jesuits and reached settlements, said many more people will come forward.

He represents about 15 former students from the missionary school in Omak, Wash., who are alleging sexual abuse.

“The Jesuits have a long and rich history in the Northwest, and there are many who reached the highest virtues of their calling,” said Allison, a Gonzaga law school graduate. “But there also has been great harm done to very vulnerable people, both by bad priests and the failure of their leaders to take action when the problem was plainly known or knowable.”

Jesuit officials declined to answer questions and referred reporters to prepared statements.

Among the unknowns is how much more money can be wrung from insurers, who have paid tens of millions in settlements.

The statement offered an apology: “Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our Province’s history to an end. 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.”

Reach John Stucke at (509) 459-5419 or