Jesuits settle Native sexual abuse case

Roman Catholic order agrees to pay $50 million

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A Roman Catholic religious order has agreed to pay $50 million to dozens of Alaska Natives who were victims of sexual abuse by Jesuit priests, their lawyer said Sunday.

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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.

He called the settlement "a great day" for the victims in which the truth of what had occurred over many years was recognized.

"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 Oregon-based province covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

The settlement announcement is premature because some issues need to be finalized, said the Very Rev. John Whitney, S.J., provincial superior for the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province.

"When those issues are resolved we will be available for a more complete discussion of the matter," Whitney said. 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.

He provided The Associated Press with an e-mail sent Friday from Dick Hansen, the lawyer representing the religious order. The e-mail 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."

The sexual abuse involved 13 or 14 clerics and spanned nearly 30 years, from 1961 to 1987, Roosa said. The ages of the children ranged from 5 years old to teenagers.

Roosa said the victims are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

In some villages it is difficult to find an adult who was not sexually violated by the priests, who then used religion and their power to silence hundreds of children, Roosa said.

"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," he said.

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

The cases include those involving the Rev. James Poole, founder of Catholic radio station KNOM in Nome. Poole, who lives in an assisted living facility in Spokane, Wash., worked in a number of towns and villages in rural Alaska.

Roosa said the cases also involve Joseph Lundowski, who died in 1993. Lundowski was a Trappist monk who volunteered for the bishop of Fairbanks, Roosa said.

"He was a very prolific molester and molested about 60 kids," he 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.

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