Jesuits Settle Sex Abuse Claims For $166 Million

In one of the largest settlements in the Catholic church's sweeping sex abuse scandal, an order of priests agreed Friday to pay $166.1 million to hundreds of Native Americans and Alaska Natives who were abused at the order's schools around the Pacific Northwest.

The settlement between more than 450 victims and the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus also calls for a written apology to the victims and disclosure of documents to them, including their personal medical records.

"It's a day of reckoning and justice," said Clarita Vargas, who said she and her two sisters were abused by the head of St. Mary's Mission and School, a former Jesuit-run Indian boarding school on the Colville Indian Reservation near Omak, Wash., in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The abuse began when they were as young as 6 or 7, she said. "My spirit was wounded, and this makes it feel better."

The province ran village and reservation schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The claims are from victims who were students at schools in all five states. Nearly all the victims are Native American or Alaska Native.

The province previously settled another 200 claims. Then the organization filed for bankruptcy in 2009, claiming the payments depleted its treasury. But victims argued the province remained wealthy because it controls and owns Gonzaga University, Gonzaga Preparatory School, Seattle University and other schools and properties.

Many of the abuses happened in remote villages and on reservations. The order was accused of using those areas as dumping grounds for problem priests.

Both the order and its insurers are paying into the settlement.

Although the victims' attorneys initially cited the wealth of the Jesuit colleges and prep schools in the region, they did not pursue that argument during the bankruptcy negotiations, so the settlement does not includes such institutions as Gonzaga University in Spokane, famous for its successful basketball program.

The settlement is believed to be the Catholic Church's third-largest in the sex abuse cases, behind the Los Angeles Diocese, which agreed to pay $660 million to 508 victims, and the San Diego Diocese, which agreed to pay $198 million to 144 victims, according to the website BishopAccountability.org.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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