In one of the largest monetary payouts nationwide in the Roman Catholic Church's sexual-abuse crisis, the Jesuits in the Northwest have agreed to pay $166.1 million to about 500 abuse victims as part of its bankruptcy settlement. Many of the victims who will be compensated are Native Americans and Alaska Natives, who were abused by priests sent to their boarding schools or isolated villages – often after the priests had been removed from other parishes for abusing children.
"It's a day of reckoning and justice," said Clarita Vargas, 51, of Tacoma, who was abused while a student at St. Mary's Mission and School, a former Jesuit-run Indian boarding school on the Colville Indian Reservation near Omak.
Vargas, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, remembers being abused by the Rev. John Morse at St. Mary's Mission and School, which she attended from second to eighth grade. Morse would sometimes lock her in a cellar, telling her she couldn't come out until she agreed to do what he wanted.
Vargas said nothing can compensate for having her childhood taken away. "My spirit was wounded. I can only say (the settlement) makes me feel better. And I can't explain it."
About 60 former students now say they were abused at that school, one of many across the nation that date back to the Indian boarding-school era of the late 1800s, when the federal government began placing Native American children, sometimes forcibly, in such schools to assimilate them into the dominant culture. The order has been accused of regarding reservations and remote villages as dumping grounds for problem priests.
Dorothea Skalicky, 42, of Lewiston, Idaho, was abused from the ages of 6 to 8 by the Rev. Augustine Ferretti at Sacred Heart Church in Lapwai, Idaho, on the Nez Percé Reservation. Ferretti has since died. Ferretti "was kind of a grandpa figure" who kept dolls and toys at the church, she said. "He would encourage me to come and play." Skalicky told no one about her abuse for years. "My family liked him," she said. About two years ago, Skalicky read a newspaper account of a woman who had been abused by Ferretti, and she started crying. Her husband asked her what was going on. It was the first time she'd ever told anyone about what had happened to her. "The biggest thing that really pissed me off was that Father Ferretti had done this — allegedly, had done this before," she said. "And he was put on the reservation because it's a reservation. Maybe the thought was: Little Indian girls would not say anything."
"Because of these settlements, hopefully, (the church) is making substantial changes to prevent future abuses," she added. "That's the big thing."
Two reviewers selected by a victims' committee — former U.S. attorney Kate Pflaumer in Seattle and retired Superior Court Judge William Bettinelli in San Francisco — have begun evaluating each sexual-abuse victim's case to decide how much each person will receive. Factors they will consider are severity and duration of abuse and how people have since done in their lives. Those who suffered physical abuse will go through a separate process. The victims are expected to get their checks sometime later this year. It's not known exactly how much of the $166.1 million settlement will go to the victims' lawyers, but typically in such cases their fees are about 33 to 40 percent. About $6 million of the settlement is being set aside for victims who may come forward in the future.