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Jesuits Declare Bankruptcy In Response To Alaska Sex Abuse Lawsuits

OPB | Feb. 18, 2009 7:56 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:12 a.m. | Anchorage, AK

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By Annie Feidt

More than 60 lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests are now on hold after the Jesuits of the Oregon Province filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday.

In all, there are 200 known claimants in the five western states covered by the Province. Most are those victims are from Alaska.

The attorney representing many of them — Ken Roosa of Anchorage — says he expects more claimants to come forward, even after the bankruptcy.

Ken Roosa: "By the time this is over, it wouldn't surprise me to see that number double. And these all will of course involve childhood molestation by Jesuit priests and brothers, or people who were being supervised by Jesuit priests and brothers."

Roosa was planning to file 40 more lawsuits on behalf of abuse victims next week. Now those cases are expected to be filed as claims in the bankruptcy proceedings.

The Society of Jesus, Oregon Province isn't talking publicly about the bankruptcy filing. In a written statement, the Society says it believes Chapter 11 reorganization was the only way all the claimants can receive a fair settlement.

The Jesuits say they have less than $5 million in assets but their liabilities amount to nearly $62 million. Attorney Roosa says those figures will be a major point of contention during the bankruptcy proceedings.

Ken Roosa: "There will be debates about whether the Jesuits own the universities and high schools, whether those universities and high schools are assets, that can be held accountable or used to pay the claims, all of that will be argued before the bankruptcy judge in litigation there."

Roosa says it may take a few years to resolve the bankruptcy case.

The Jesuit order is separate from the Catholic Archdioceses of Portland and Spokane, which went through their own bankruptcy cases several years ago.

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