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The Nation

March 26, 2011

Jesuits settle NW abuse claims for $166 million

SEATTLE — Clarita Vargas was sent to an Indian boarding school some four decades ago to study her ABCs and learn to blend in with majority culture. She says she instead learned a nightmarish lesson — that children sometimes have no one to protect them from pedophiles.

On Friday, the 51-year-old had her "day of reckoning and justice," when an order of Jesuit priests agreed to pay $166.1 million to hundreds of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives who were abused at its schools around the Pacific Northwest.

The settlement with victims like Vargas is one of the largest in the Catholic church's sweeping sex abuse scandal.

Vargas alleges she and her two sisters were abused at St. Mary's Mission and School, a former Jesuit-run boarding school on the reservation near Omak, Wash., in the late 1960s and 1970s.

She says the abuse began when they were as young as 6 or 7, and that she was told to obey the priest who was abusing her or forfeit the chance to go to heaven. "My spirit was wounded, and this makes it feel better."

St. Mary's now operates as Paschal Sherman Indian School and is run by the Colville Tribe.

The Jesuit order, called the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, has been accused of using its schools in remote villages and on reservations as dumping grounds for problem priests.

Attorneys representing the mostly Native American and Alaskan Native victims said the abuse added to the mistreatment already endured by these children, some of whom were forcibly removed from their homes to attend these schools.

The settlement between the more than 450 victims and the province also calls for a written apology to the victims and disclosure of documents to them, including their medical records.

The Jesuit order ran village and reservation schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The claims are from victims who were students at schools in all five states.

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