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Alaska Natives make up large part of claimants in Jesuit abuse settlement

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Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 4:18 am | Updated: 1:53 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — More than 200 Alaska Natives are among the 500 victims of sexual abuse represented in the $166.1 million bankruptcy settlement with the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, announced Friday.

The majority of the 300 or so other victims are identified as Native Americans who attended boarding schools run by the Jesuits until the mid-1970s on Indian reservations.

The Oregon Province, also known as the Northwest Jesuits, encompasses five states, including Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

Alaska claimants range in age from their 20s to late 70s and reported abuse by Jesuit clergy from the 1940s to as recently as 2003.

Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney representing many of the victims, said he has been aware of the settlement amount since October 2010 and expressed frustration with being unable to notify his clients because of a court gag order.

“I feel a great sense of accomplishment but a great deal of frustration that it has taken so long and several clients have passed away without my being able to disclose this to them,” he said. “That’s really been hard.

“This whole process has been like a never ending root canal, and it is not over yet.”

Roosa called Friday’s announcement another step, but far from a conclusion, saying it will be months yet before all settlement requirements are accomplished and victim compensation begins.

In November 2007, the Oregon Province settled with 113 Alaska Native child sex abuse victims for $50 million — at the time the largest single settlement against a Catholic religious order.

Afterward, as more abuse claimants filed suit, the Oregon Province declared bankruptcy, the first to do so among the 10 Jesuit provinces nationwide.

The province’s $166.1 million bankruptcy settlement marks the largest single payout by a religious order to survivors of sexual abuse by their members.

Once the settlement is completed, Patrick Wall, a former ex-Benedictine and consultant to a California law firm, said it is estimated the province will have paid out more than $250 million in sexual abuse claims in the northwest.

The 57 perpetrators — priests, brothers and employees of the province serving throughout the five-states — came from 14 other Jesuit provinces and seven different countries during the years, Wall said.

Roosa clarified that sexual abuse victims who received compensation from the 2007, $50 million Jesuit settlement are not part of nor eligible for the current bankruptcy settlement.

A portion of the settlement money, $6.4 million, is being set aside to compensate any future, credible sex abuse victims who haven’t come forward to date.

“I know for a fact that there will be some,” Roosa said. “I don’t expect the hundreds as in the past, but there are others out there who for various reasons have not spoken up yet.”

Roosa expects the victim’s fund to potentially double in size with further monetary recovery or insurance payouts.

Now that the bulk of the sexual abuse cases have been settled, the next step is healing in the Native way, Wall said, not in the Freudian or Jungian models.

“That is in the process of being developed,” he added.

As part of the January 2010 Fairbanks Catholic Diocese’s $9.8 million bankruptcy settlement agreement with 300 Alaska Native sexual abuse victims, Bishop Donald Kettler has been traveling to more than two dozen communities in the Interior and the west coast of Alaska where sexual abuse occurred.

Kettler has been meeting with and apologizing to abuse victims and holding listening sessions and healing ceremonies — and holding potlatches at every stop.

Halfway through the mandated trips last fall, Kettler said, “In all the places I’ve gone, there is much more healing to be done.”

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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