|The landmark ruling comes just days after the Catholic church celebrated St. Patrick's Day [EPA]
The Pacific Northwest chapter of the Roman Catholic Church's Jesuit order has agreed to pay $166 million to settle more than 500 child sexual abuse claims against priests in five states, attorneys have said.
The decision on Friday compels a payout by the Society of Jesus in the Oregon Province, and is part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case. Lawyers for the victims said it is also the largest ever payout by a Catholic religious order such as the Jesuits.
The Oregon Province is the Northwest chapter of the Rome-based Jesuit order and covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.
The victims, most of them Native Americans from remote Alaska Native villages or Indian reservations in the Pacific Northwest, were sexually or psychologically abused as children by Jesuit missionaries in those states in the 1940s through the 1990s, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.
"No amount of money can bring back a lost childhood, a destroyed culture or a shattered faith," Blaine Tamaki, a lawyer, who represents about 90 victims in the settlement, said in a statement.
"This settlement recognizes that the Jesuits betrayed the trust of hundreds of young children in their care," Tamaki said. "These religious figures should have been responsible for protecting children, but instead raped and molested them."
The Jesuits' Oregon Province said the $166.1 million would be paid into a trust to "resolve approximately 524 abuse claims in a five-state area."
Rebecca Rhoades, another attorney for victims of Jesuit abuse in the Northwest, said settlement negotiations began in earnest in October 2010 and were concluded this week.
She said the settlement, which has been approved by all parties, will be filed with the US Bankruptcy Court in Portland, Oregon, on March 29.
The Jesuits filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2009 as litigation over sexual abuse claims was mounting