Monday, November 19, 2007

Alaska Abuse = $50 Million Jesuit Payout

In a record settlement by a religious community, the Oregon province of the Jesuits agreed to pay $50 million at the weekend to 110 Alaskans who filed abuse suits against the Society. The number of complaints in the remote state led to allegations that the state had served as a "dumping ground" for abusers.
The settlement does not require the order to admit fault.... None of the priests was ever criminally charged.

A dozen priests and three missionaries were accused of sexually abusing Eskimo children in 15 villages and Nome from 1961 to 1987. The flood of allegations led to accusations that the Eskimo communities were a dumping ground for abusive priests and lay workers affiliated with the Jesuit order, which supplied bishops, priests and lay missionaries to the Fairbanks diocese.

Jesuit officials have denied transferring molesting priests to Alaska, saying that it was a prestigious assignment for the most courageous and faithful. In Jesuit fundraising literature, Eskimo villages were called "the world's most difficult mission field."

Many plaintiffs said their once devoutly Catholic villages -- cut off from the world and without law enforcement -- offered a perfect setting for a molesting priest. In 2005, The Times published a story about Joseph Lundowski, a Jesuit deacon who allegedly sexually abused nearly every boy in two small villages on St. Michael Island between 1968 and 1975.

Lundowski's accusers -- now in their 40s and 50s -- said the abuse led to alcoholism, violence, emotional problems and suicide attempts. They kept their secret -- not even talking about it among themselves -- until the Catholic Church sex scandal erupted in 2002.

That year, Roosa filed the first civil suit against the Jesuits and the Diocese of Fairbanks. The cases against the diocese are still pending.

Roosa said he spent Sunday on the phone, relaying the news of the settlement to his clients who were scattered across western Alaska: "I'm tired but I'm able to call clients today with good news."
...and last weekend, the diocese of Scranton agreed to the largest payment to a single survivor, settling a case for $3 million:
The settlement was reached Wednesday, after two days of testimony at a federal civil trial by priests and lay people revealed that the diocese had been warned about the conduct of the priest, Albert M. Liberatore Jr., “but the diocese did nothing about it,” said the victim’s lawyer, Daniel T. Brier.

The victim, who was not identified, had been scheduled to testify Wednesday. Mr. Brier said his client was now 22, lived in New York and hoped to become a lawyer.

Mr. Liberatore, who was defrocked in June 2006, pleaded guilty in 2005 to a criminal charge of attempted sexual abuse stemming from the case and was sentenced to 10 years of probation. Also in 2005, he received five years’ probation in a separate case after pleading guilty to indecent assault and other charges.

As part of the settlement, the diocese agreed to set up a meeting with the victim’s mother so that the diocese’s former bishop, James C. Timlin, now retired, and the Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, who was vicar of priests when the abuse occurred, could apologize to her.

In a statement, the diocese, which covers 11 counties and 200 parishes in northeastern Pennsylvania, said that part of the cost of the settlement would be paid for by insurance and part by the diocese, but that no parish money would be involved.

“Today’s settlement represents the diocese’s efforts to assist the victim to heal and to move on to achieve a productive and fulfilling life,” the statement said.

Mr. Liberatore first met the victim in 1997 when he was 12 and the priest was helping to console the boy’s mother as she coped with her husband’s debilitating illness.

Then, starting in 1999 and continuing until 2002 — as the sexual abuse scandal in the church was gaining national attention, Mr. Brier noted — Mr. Liberatore repeatedly took advantage of his fatherlike position and abused the victim.
All told, US dioceses and religious orders have paid in excess of $2.5 billion to settle abuse claims.

PHOTO: Damon Winter/
Los Angeles Times