US Jesuits to pay 50 million dollar in Alaska abuse cases

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CHICAGO, Nov 19 (Reuters) An agreement by Oregon Jesuits to settle sexual abuse claims in Alaska is the largest ever by a Roman Catholic religious order and one of the few successful settlements against any order, lawyers and victims rights advocates said today.

''It seems that Alaska was a dumping ground for predators,'' said Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abuses by Priests, commenting on yesterday's announcement of a 50 million dollar settlement by the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

Lawyers said the settlement covers 110 victims in native Alaska villages where priests and volunteer missionaries were assigned by the Oregon Jesuit community.

''No amount of money can ever bring back a childhood, a soul or a community,'' said Ken Roosa of Anchorage, Alaska, one of the victims' attorneys.

''In some villages, it is difficult to find an adult who was not sexually violated by men who used religion and power to rape, shame and then silence hundreds of Alaska Native children. Despite all this, no Catholic religious leader has yet to admit that problem priests were dumped in Alaska,'' he added.

He and other lawyers involved said it was the largest abuse settlement so far against a Catholic religious order and does not include Diocese of Fairbanks, which they said bears an equal responsibility ''for the wide-scale abuse of hundreds of children in remote Alaska Native Villages.'' There was no immediate response for a request for comment from the Oregon Jesuits but the Los Angeles Times quoted John Whitney, the provincial superior, as saying the group was ''disappointed'' by the disclosures made by the lawyers for the victims, ''which we see as premature and detrimental to the Province.'' The settlement does not require the Jesuits to admit any wrongdoing.

While the US Catholic church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle abuse claims in recent years, ''for the most part the victims of religious communities have not been successful in their lawsuits,'' Blaine said.

''This is the first time we've seen something with a religious community that was this large,'' she added.

''What happened in these villages was that they sent in a predator and people there had no contact with the outside world for four, five or six months, and during that time a guy could abuse every child. There is a whole generation of children who were abused,'' Blaine said.

The biggest single church settlement paid so far was 660 million dollar by the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest in the United States, last July to 508 plaintiffs for cases that dated back to the 1940s.

In September the Catholic Diocese of San Diego settled lawsuits with 144 victims of sexual abuse for 198 million dollar. The Boston Archdiocese, where the abuse and cover-up scandal erupted in 2002, reached a settlement in 2003 to pay 85 million dollar to 550 people.

There have been a number of other settlements around the country, and the drain has caused diocesan leaders in some areas to sell property or other assets.

''The Jesuits' responsibility does not end by simply writing a check,'' said attorney John Manly of Newport Beach, California, who represented the Alaska victims. ''This abuse has caused a whole culture to bear an overwhelming sadness and deep, abiding pain. The Jesuit leadership must take full accountability for what they did to these kids.'' REUTERS RSA KN2333

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