Montana victims of priest abuse being interviewed

Great Falls, Montana (AP) May 2011

Native Americans who reported sexual abuse at Jesuit-run schools are telling their stories to court-appointed reviewers as part of an effort to determine how to distribute a $166.1 million settlement reached last month with an order of Jesuit priests.

Some of the interviews are happening in Great Falls this week, while others have taken place in Missoula and Polson.

“It’s hard. These are very difficult stories,” attorney Andrew Chasan of Boise, Idaho, told the Great Falls Tribune for a story published. “This may be only the second or third time they’ve told this story in their lives.”

The settlement money will be distributed among more than 450 claimants based on the severity of the abuse they suffered and other factors, he said.

The reviewers also will have to determine if a claim is valid.

“It’s very rare to find a fraudulent claim,” Chasan said, noting that the important details almost always line up from story to story.

About 140 of the victims are from Montana, including 40 of his firm’s clients, he said.

In 2009, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus was accused of using its schools in remote villages and on Indian reservations in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska as dumping grounds for problem priests. Hundreds of people, mostly Native American and Alaska Natives, have come forward claiming they were abused by clergy at those schools.

The settlement, reached in late March, also calls for publishing the names of the abusers and a written apology along with new policies to aid whistleblowers and educate children about abuse. It also sets aside about $6 million for future claims.

Chasan said the settlement represents justice for hundreds of victims and it is gratifying to see them overcome their trauma through the settlement.

“It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “To see people who have gone through such trauma and sadness in their life and rise above it. ... You don’t often get this kind of chance in your career.”