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Faced with lawsuit, Jesuit province files bankruptcy

Faced with the possibility of more than 100 new victims coming forward in a sexual abuse lawsuit, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus filed for bankruptcy Tuesday in Portland Federal Bankruptcy Court.

The province—which includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon—filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in response to a lawsuit in which 63 Native Alaskan victims have alleged they were sexually abused by Jesuits and that leaders of the province covered up the abuse. More victims will be joining the lawsuit in the coming weeks, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

“Chapter 11 will allow the Oregon Province to resolve pending claims, manage its financial situation and continue its various ministries in the Northwest in which it has been engaged since 1841,” said Fr. Patrick Lee, S.J., provincial of the Oregon Province, in a statement.

According to bankruptcy documents, the Society of Jesus has $4.8 million in assets and $61.7 in liabilities. The province paid more than $25 million in settlements from its own resources in November 2007 in response to a previous sexual abuse lawsuit, according to Pat Walsh, a spokesman for the Jesuits.

“Our decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one,” Lee said, “but with approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the Province.”

With approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the Province. – Fr. Patrick Lee, S.J.

Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., was named as a defendant Jan. 14 in the lawsuit for allegedly covering up sexual abuse of minors when he was provincial of the Oregon Province from 1990 to 1996. Sundborg denies all of the allegations that have been made against him.

Sundborg did not respond to an e-mail request for comment late Tuesday night, but he sent an e-mail to faculty, staff and students Wednesday morning.

“I want to assure you that Seattle University is not a part of this bankruptcy proceeding,” Sundborg wrote. “Seattle University is, and has been for more than 100 years, an independent Washington nonprofit corporation. Seattle University is not owned, operated or controlled by the Oregon Province.”

Fr. Patrick Howell, S.J., who is rector of the Jesuit community at Seattle U, also sent an e-mail to faculty, staff and students Wednesday morning.

“The Jesuits working at Seattle University,” he said in the e-mail, “will remain fully committed to advancing the mission of Seattle University to provide leaders for a just and humane world.”

Patrick Wall, a representative of the victims, said the bankruptcy filing is an acknowledgement of the sexual abuse and its cover up. He said he believes the Oregon Province has drastically underrepresented its financial resources in the filings.

“This bankruptcy has nothing to do with finances—the Jesuits are one of the wealthiest religious organizations in the United States,” said John Manly, an attorney for the victims, in a statement. “This filing is about protecting the hierarchy and those who covered up for abusers.”

The victim’s lawyers have said they believe the Oregon Province owns Seattle U’s assets.

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