Last week the Northwest Jesuits agreed to pay $166.1 million in a bankruptcy settlement with about 500 people who were sexually abused by priests. The majority of the payment will come from the religious order’s insurers. The Northwest Jesuits declared bankruptcy in 2009 when a number of sexual abuse charges were brought against the order. This is the largest abuse settlement against a religious order in the US (as opposed to a diocese).
The abuse occurred primarily in American Indian boarding schools, and the survivors are mostly American Indians. The Jesuits are generally associated with education – they run a number of high schools and universities – and also have a reputation for social justice (with obvious exceptions in the field of reproductive justice). But abuse was apparently far too common in the remote boarding schools:
“There is a huge number of victims, in part because these Native American communities were remote and vulnerable, and in part because of a policy by the Jesuits, even though they deny it, of sending problem priests to these far-off regions,” said Terry McKiernan of Bishopaccountability.org, a victims’ advocacy group that tracks abuse cases.
I can only hope the settlement brings some closure for the survivors of abuse. But it is quite frankly despicable that the Northwest Jesuits are able to hide behind bankruptcy law to protect themselves from greater liability. The order was trusted with the spiritual and education guidance of so many vulnerable young people, and they flagrantly, and seemingly systemically, abused that position. I honestly don’t have words for how disgusted I am.
As the case with the Northwest Jesuits is drawing towards its close, another suit was filed Monday against the Chicago Jesuits, charging the order with ignoring or hiding decades of warnings about abuse by former priest Donald J. McGuire. Documents dating all the way back to the 1960s show the order was repeatedly warned about Fr. McGuire and directives were even issued about his future behavior. Yet they continued to put him in positions where he worked with young boys, including letting him take young assistants on his missionary trips, and even telling a diocese he was in “good standing” as recently as 1998.
“I have never seen such detailed and frequent notice received by the priest’s superiors, so many ‘directives’ regarding the priest’s future behavior, and so much evidence presented to his superiors that those directives were being violated, without the priest being removed from ministry,” Mr. McKiernan said.
These two suits paint a deeply disturbing picture of the way pedophile priests have been protected within the Jesuit order. Again, I’m at a loss for how to express my outrage and deep heartbreak that such gross injustice could be perpetrated by an organization tasked with the education and spiritual guidance of young people.