Friday, February 18, 2011

Last updated February 18, 2011 12:31 a.m. PT

Lawsuits filed against Jesuits in Bankruptcy Court

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Attorneys representing a group of people who allege sexual abuse by Jesuit priests have filed 37 lawsuits in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, seeking about $3.1 million.

The Oregonian reports that the lawsuits filed late Thursday contend that the order's Oregon Province paid money to various entities before filing for Chapter 11 protection two years ago, and the money actually should be considered part of the order's assets.

James Stang, a lawyer representing a creditor's committee that filed the lawsuits, told the newspaper that the suits do not contend the Jesuits were trying to protect their assets from abuse claims.

"I don't think this is a hiding issue," Stang said. "It's not illegal. This is what Jesuits do. They support education. That's a fine thing to do, when you're not insolvent."

The province filed for Chapter 11 on Feb. 17, 2009, after sex-abuse lawsuits were brought against Jesuit priests. Between 2001 and early 2009, the province settled more than 200 legal claims, paying out $25 million.

The order, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska and Montana, would not comment on the lawsuits, saying in a statement that its affairs were tied up in the Chapter 11 proceedings.

The lawsuits were brought against a wide variety of church-related groups. Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash., was named in a suit seeking about $232,000 while Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Ore., was named in another, for nearly $31,000.

"Jesuit High School contends that those claims are completely without merit," a statement by the school said. "Jesuit High School's assets are not at risk in any way due to the Oregon Province's bankruptcy proceeding or this latest claim by the creditors' committee. We will remain a fiscally healthy institution committed to educating young men and women in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition."

When the order filed for Chapter 11, it faced more than 150 lawsuits alleging priest abuse. There are now more than 500 people seeking compensation.

Stang said some of the lawsuits might be settled out of court.

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