The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday following additional sexual abuse lawsuits, thus becoming the first religious order to do so.
The bankruptcy petition was filed in Portland Federal Bankruptcy Court as an additional 200 claims of sexual abuse of primarily Alaskan children were pending or threatened against the Jesuit province, the Daily News-Miner reports.
The Oregon province has 235 Jesuit priests and brothers in the five states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Fr. Patrick J. Lee, SJ, the provincial of the Oregon Province, released a statement early Tuesday.
“It is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province,” Fr. Lee said.
“Our hope is that by filing Chapter 11, we can begin to bring this sad chapter in our province’s history to an end.
“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.
“Chapter 11 will allow the Oregon Province to resolve pending claims, manage its financial situation and continue its various ministries in the Northwest in which it has been engaged since 1831,” he continued.
Fr. Lee’s statement reports that since 2001 the province has settled more than 200 claims and has paid in excess of $25 million from its own resources in addition to payments made by insurers.
Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney representing alleged sexual abuse victims, told the News-Miner that the bankruptcy filing is “ultimately an acknowledgment of what we have been saying for years is true, that Alaska was used as a dumping ground for problem priests and by filing bankruptcy they can shut off once and for all the plaintiffs opportunity to gain discovery and get evidence of what was going on here.”
He claimed that the bankruptcy move protects the province from further investigation by barring access to Jesuit records.
Roosa also said the filing will allow for more rapid settlement for victims.