The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province—a group of Jesuits who serve the Northwest—has agreed to pay a settlement of $166 million to childhood victims of sexual and physical abuse. The abuse of approximately 500 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is reported to have taken place at mission and boarding schools operated by the Jesuits on Indian Reservations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Montana.
The financial payout by the Society of Jesus is part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case. It is said to be the third biggest settlement to date in the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual abuse scandal—and, according to lawyers for the victims, it is the largest ever by a single Catholic religious order.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs announced the settlement on Friday morning. Blaine Tamaki, an attorney from Yakima whose firm represented about one-third of the non-Alaskan victims, said, “Instead of teaching these Native American children about the love of God, these pedophile priests were molesting these children.” He added, “It was a culture of abuse of Native American children. Today is the day where they are acknowledging guilt.”
The abuse of the children is said to have spanned decades—and was perpetrated by priests and workers who were supervised by the Jesuits. The Jesuit order has been accused of regarding remote villages and reservations as “dumping grounds” for their problem priests.
According to an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, none of the priests, nuns, and lay workers who abused the children has gone to prison. In fact, many who held power in the province when the abuse occurred have retained their positions of authority.
Clarita Vargas, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, remembers being abused by the Rev. John Morse at St. Mary’s Mission and School—which she attended from the second through the eighth grade. She said Morse would sometimes lock her in a cellar and tell her she could not come out until she agreed to do what he wanted.
Vargas called the attacks on her and other native children a “generational trauma.” She told reporters that she, her siblings, and her classmates were subjected to constant sexual abuse at the school in Omak. “I was a beautiful Christian Catholic child,” she said. “Why would a person of authority try to tarnish that?”
Vargas feels that nothing can compensate her for her lost childhood. “My spirit was wounded. I can only say (the settlement) makes me feel better. And I can’t explain it,” she said.
In addition to the financial settlement, the Jesuit order reportedly has agreed to no longer refer to their victims as “alleged victims,” to write apologies to them, and to enforce new practices that would prevent abuse of children in the future.