"In a remote corner of Eastern Washington's Colville Indian Reservation, up a road that winds through sharp-edged, scrub-covered mountains to a plateau, sits a cluster of long, rectangular buildings. The site, once a thriving boarding school for Native Americans called St. Mary's, is mostly empty now, except for a white, steepled church that holds occasional services. Yet Kate Sanchez, a member of the Colville tribe, still feels revulsion when she comes here, remembering the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse she says she experienced at the hands of Jesuit priests at the school four decades ago.
Sanchez and 15 other former St. Mary's students recently sued the Jesuits and came away with a $4.8 million payout. But the settlement has done little to lessen her disgust. Nor has it softened her anger at the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, which oversees Jesuit activities in five Northwestern states. The Province filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago in the face of hundreds of additional abuse claims from Native Americans like her.
"They raped us when we were small, and now they're doing it all over again with this bankruptcy," says Sanchez, 54, a social worker on the Colville reservation who says she gave away her settlement money. She periodically breaks down in tears when she talks about the case. She believes that with access to "the Pope and the Vatican and the dioceses," the Province can hardly claim to be out of cash.
But that's exactly what the Jesuits are asserting. Their bankruptcy has set off a complicated, high-stakes fight over how much money the Province actually has, and who else's pockets the plaintiffs' attorneys can dig into.
As abuse claims against the Catholic Church have exploded in the past decade, attorneys have become ever more aggressive and adept at recruiting clients while raising their financial demands. In the case of the Oregon Province bankruptcy, attorneys have assembled roughly 600 alleged victims—most of them Native Americans—who lay claim to a share of the Jesuits' assets. One Seattle lawyer working on the case, Timothy Kosnoff, has set his sights on winning in excess of $1 million per person—or more than three times the amount paid out to Sanchez's group just two years ago."
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All Choked Up
(Seattle Weekly 2/24)
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