Hundreds of people sexually and psychologically abused by Jesuit missionaries in Washington and four other states will share a $166.6 million settlement, the largest verdict for abuse victims of a religious order in U.S. history, according to lawyers representing the victims.
"It's a day of reckoning and justice," said Clarita Vargas, who was one of many children molested at the St. Mary's Mission and School on the Colville Reservation near Omak.
Members of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, were accused of abusing approximately 500 children in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon from the 1940s through 1990s.
In addition to the $166.6 million, the Society of Jesus has agreed to give a written apology to the victims and share with them important documents, such as personal medical records, the victims' lawyers said.
The alleged abuse primarily took place in Jesuit-operated mission schools and boarding schools on Indian reservations. Some of the children claimed abuse by Jesuits serving in dioceses throughout the Northwest.
“This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care, and inflicted terrible atrocities upon them," said attorney Blaine Tamaki, of the Tamaki Law Firm, which represented nearly a third of the clients outside of Alaska. "These religious figures should have been responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them.”
The Society of Jesus is a religious order based in Rome, Italy. Friday morning, the Northwest chapter could not be reached for comment on the settlement.
Clarita Vargas said her abuser, Father John Morse, was also in charge of the mission, so she had no one to turn to.
Morse has been implicated in the sexual abuse of nearly 40 children.
Vargas said his favorite way to lure children was by inviting them to movie night in his room.
"You have kids in pajamas just wanting to watch a movie, have snacks, and he would be molesting them."
In 2008, the Tamaki Law Firm filed 21 federal lawsuits against the Jesuits in the Eastern District of Washington, on behalf of abuse survivors.
Almost six months later, in February 2009, the Northwest Jesuits filed for bankruptcy protection in Portland, Oregon.
Forty-nine of the victims represented by Tamaki claimed they were sexually abused when they were 8 years old or younger. The remaining victims were between the ages of 9 and 14 when the abuse occurred, the lawyers said.
Most of the abuse claims brought by Tamaki were alleged to have occurred in the 1950s through 1970s at reservation mission schools, including St. Mary's Mission in Omak, Washington.