by Bryan Denson and Nancy Haught
Tuesday February 17, 2009
The Northwest’s Jesuits filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization today in Portland, citing civil lawsuits resulting from allegations of clergy sex abuse.
Formally known as the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, the Roman Catholic order declared assets of $4.8 million and liabilities of nearly $62 million, according to the 123-page filing posted in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon.
The five-state Jesuit province is listed as a defendant in nine active lawsuits in Alaska, Idaho and Washington. Another suit was settled last September in Multnomah County. The suits were brought by plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by priests.
"Our decision to file Chapter 11 was not an easy one, but with approximately 200 additional claims pending or threatened, it is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province," said Oregon’s provincial, the Rev. Patrick J. Lee, in a written statement.
Although the Oregon province is the largest geographically in the world, it remains the poorest financially of the Jesuits’ 10 provinces in the United States, according to the order’s Web site.
According to the Portland-based province, the Jesuits have settled at least 200 legal claims since 2001, paying more than $25 million, not including payments by the province’s insurers. The bankruptcy filing listed assets of $1.2 million in real property and $3.7 million in personal property.
"Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our province’s history to an end," Lee said. "We continue to pray for all those who have been hurt by the actions of a few men, so that they can receive the healing and reconciliation that they deserve."
Lee said the filing will allow the province to resolve its pending claims, manage its financial situation and continue its ministries in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The province includes more than 250 Jesuits.
The Jesuits came to the Northwest in 1841 after being invited by the Flathead tribe from what is now Montana.
The Oregon province, created in 1932, has two universities — Seattle University and Gonzaga University in Spokane — and four high schools, including Jesuit High School in Beaverton. In 2001, the order established St. Andrew Nativity School in Northeast Portland.