Church Settles $50M Abuse Claims In Alaska

generic catholic church abuse silhouette boy child nun prayer rosary
CBS/iStockphoto
A Roman Catholic religious order has agreed to pay $50 million to more than 100 Alaska Natives who allege sexual abuse by Jesuit priests, a lawyer for the accusers said Sunday.

The settlement with the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is the largest one yet against a Catholic religious order, said Anchorage lawyer Ken Roosa, who called it "a great day" for the 110 victims.

"These are people who were altar boys and altar servers and altar girls," Roosa said. "These are people who tried to tell their story and in many instances were beaten or told to shut up and told, 'How can you say such things about a man of God?'"

The settlement does not require the order to admit fault, Roosa said. None of the priests was ever criminally charged.

The settlement announcement is premature because some issues need to be finalized, said the Very Rev. John Whitney, provincial superior of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

"When those issues are resolved we will be available for a more complete discussion of the matter," Whitney said in a prepared statement. He described the settlement announcement as "premature and detrimental."

Roosa said issues involving the plaintiffs had been resolved. The only issues that remained were with the religious order's insurer, he said.

Roosa provided The Associated Press with an e-mail sent Friday from Dick Hansen, the lawyer representing the religious order. It reads, "This email will confirm that a settlement has been reached. ... The settlement calls for $50,000,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs/claimants in exchange for releases of all claims against the Jesuit defendants."

In the e-mail, Hansen says he's glad to "put this matter to rest." Hansen did not immediately return a call from the AP seeking comment.

The sexual abuse allegations involved 13 or 14 clerics and spanned nearly 30 years, from 1961 to 1987, Roosa said. The children's ages ranged from 5 years to teenage.

"Despite all this, no Catholic religious leader has yet to admit that problem priests were dumped in Alaska. For our clients, this settlement represents a long overdue acknowledgment of the truth of their stories of abuse, stories that until today were largely denied and belittled by apologists for the abusers," Roosa said.

The Catholic Church first was notified of the Alaska cases of abuse in 2002, Roosa said.

The cases do not include those against the Diocese of Fairbanks, which owned and managed the churches in the villages in rural Alaska where the Jesuit priests were assigned. Those 135 lawsuits have been reduced to 10. Those cases are expected to be mediated in December.