Jesuits settle $166 million sexual abuse suit, charged in another

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.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/evarlese/ Erica Varlese

    This is so upsetting. On top of the fact that the settlement can only do so much in healing these scars, I can’t believe they were able to get out of it by declaring bankruptcy. And the numbers are absolutely insane (500 people?!). My thoughts are with the survivors–ditto that they are able to find some closure.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    I just wish the Church can stop mucking around with people’s sex lives and sexuality! They say no to consensual affairs between two people that either don’t want a child or are the same gender and they just waddle about adults abusing young children!

  • http://feministing.com/members/tamanosou/ Ariadne

    I’ve long had a love hate relationship with the Jesuits. I went to a Jesuit high school and was privy to a sexual assault case involving two students. To say it was poorly handled by the order would be a tremendous understatement and it remains my opinion that under no circumstances should the rapist or the priests who (mis)handled it be allowed even an iota of peace or forgiveness.

    The Jesuits have a reputation for being a more learned order, but there is nothing ever that excuses sexual assault and that they continue to hide behind the excuse of “for the greater good” or I guess in their terms “Ad Majorium Dei Glorium,” is simply inexcusable.

    I hope when they lock these guys up they look them right in the eye and use that Latin phrase. That would afford me some solace.

  • http://feministing.com/members/maggiecapwell/ Maggie Capwell

    Colonialism: alive and well in the Northwest (and elsewhere). Just like white supremacy.