The Jesuit order that established Catholic missionary schools across the Northwest and Alaska has agreed to a $166 million payout to settle child sex-abuse allegations from 500 people against its clergy and other agents.
The proposal would be among the largest payouts so far in the crisis that has beset the Roman Catholic Church during the past decade. And it would require The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, to offer written apologies and provide pertinent records of the approximately 140 priests, nuns, brothers and lay workers accused from the 1950s through the 1980s.
“The breadth of the abuse and the sheer number of victims is staggering,” said attorney Michael Pfau, who represents 150 of those who alleged abuse. “It’s troubling that so much of the abuse happened to the poorest and most vulnerable children among us.”
The Northwest Jesuits have a rich tradition in the region that includes founding Gonzaga University in Spokane and Seattle University.
Most abuse victims were Alaska Natives or American Indians. In many cases Northwest Jesuit leaders moved priests accused of sexual abuse to Alaska Native villages and Indian reservations in Montana, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon, attorneys and survivors said.
During a Friday press conference announcing the settlement proposal, Dorothea Skalicky recalled growing up on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, where she was sexually abused by a priest she knew as “Father Freddy.”
The Rev. Augustine Ferretti had been assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Lapwai, Idaho, in the 1970s after serving throughout the Northwest, including St. Michael’s Scholasticate in Spokane in 1969. He died in 1982, two years after being assigned to Gonzaga University.
He has been accused of molesting at least 34 children, some of whom have filed lawsuits accusing him of abuse.
“I thought I was alone,” Skalicky recalled, “but discovered I was only one of hundreds of Native American victims.”
“It’s tragic,” Coeur d’Alene attorney Leander James said. “Clearly, they sent problem priests to reservations and remote villages, knowing these priests would have direct access to children.”
The Northwest Jesuits attempted to settle many of the allegations, though when the scope of the scandal grew, the religious order filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2009.
In 2008, the Jesuits agreed to pay $4.8 million to 16 people who said they were sexually abused as children by the Rev. John J. Morse and James Gates, a Jesuit brother, at the St. Mary’s Mission and School near Omak in the 1960s and 1970s.
Morse, who denied the allegations, was removed from ministry in 2006.
In 2007, the Northwest Jesuits agreed to pay $50 million to dozens of Alaska Natives who were sexually abused by priests.
Including the settlement announced Friday, payouts from the Northwest Jesuits will top $240 million to more than 700 people.
More than 100 are from Washington state, many who said they were abused at St. Mary’s on the Colville Indian Reservation.
Many other men and women said they were abused on the Kootenai-Salish and Blackfoot reservations in Montana, the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce reservations in Idaho and the Umatilla reservation in Oregon.
The Jesuits and a steering committee of seven victims and their attorneys negotiated the settlement proposal, which must now be approved by all of those alleging abuse and the bankruptcy court judge.
The victims will have to talk with a judge-appointed claims reviewer to demonstrate that they were abused.
The reviewer will then decide on payment amounts, based on several criteria including the severity and frequency of the sexual abuse, Pfau said. Payments could be issued in the fall, he said.
The universities did not participate in the settlement and maintain they are separate organizations.
Pfau said he represents victims who intend to pursue lawsuits against Seattle University once the bankruptcy case is resolved.
Those cases revolve around the action of the late Rev. Michael Toulouse, who once taught at Gonzaga High School and lived on the Gonzaga University campus.
One night in 1950, a 14-year-old boy told his father that Toulouse had sexually assaulted him, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Seattle. The father took his gun to the campus to confront Toulouse but was stopped by the university president and another priest before shots were fired.
Toulouse was soon moved to Seattle, where he ingratiated himself with strong Catholic families with boys, even though Jesuit higher-ups and university officials knew he was a pedophile, according to Pfau, who represents plaintiffs in cases against Seattle University.
Gonzaga faces legal exposure, too, including claims that a former Gonzaga president, the late Rev. John Leary, molested boys.
Jesuit leaders acknowledged several years ago their predecessors engaged in an elaborate cover-up that shielded Leary from prosecution and humiliation.
In April 1969, Spokane police delivered an ultimatum to Leary after learning of allegations he had sexually abused a boy: Leave town within 24 hours or face arrest.
By the next morning Leary was gone and Jesuit leaders stitched together a false story designed to preserve the university’s reputation and the legacy of a man revered as a community leader.
The settlement calls on the Northwest Jesuits to pay about 30 percent of the $166 million agreement. Insurers will pay the rest.
Every priest and employee of the religious order will have to sign an annual statement that they have not abused a child and are not aware of any abuse that has not already been disclosed.
“That will go in personnel files so that if it is determined later that they have, they can be prosecuted for perjury,” Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff said.
Howard Levine, a lawyer for the Jesuits, said the settlement is the centerpiece of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy, perhaps within three to four months.
The Jesuit bankruptcy is separate from that of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.