Jesuits of the Pacific Northwest, aided by an insurance company, have agreed to pay $166.1 million in a bankruptcy settlement to almost 500 people alleging sex abuse by Jesuit priests.

The settlement, one of the largest by a U.S. religious organization, is the culmination of a bankruptcy reorganization and was announced last week by plaintiffs. The Jesuits declared bankruptcy early in 2009 to make sure that all accusers received settlements, as opposed to a few early lawsuits earning massive payouts.   

"It is the only way we believe that all claimants can be offered a fair financial settlement within the limited resources of the province," Jesuit Father Patrick Lee, head of the Northwest Jesuits, said in 2009.  

Most of the abuse occured in Alaska and all occured decades ago, as far back as the 1940s. Missions to Native Alaskans are part of the Jesuits' Oregon Province, which also includes Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.  

The Jesuits will pay $48.1 million and Safeco Insurance will pay $118 million. About $6 million from the settlement will go into a pool for future claims.

The settlement requires a written apology from the province to abuse victims and the release of documents.
"The province continues to work with the Creditors Committee to conclude the bankruptcy process as promptly as possible," Father Lee said last week in a written statement. He would make no further comment "out of respect for the judicial process and all involved."

The settlement does not dismiss 37 lawsuits filed last month against entities, including Jesuit High School and Gonzaga University, on behalf of those claiming abuse. Those lawsuits, which do not accuse the schools of any wrongdoing, are seeking about $3.1 million in support that the province sent the schools prior to declaring bankruptcy two years ago.

Clarita Vargas of the Colville Tribe of Washington served as spokeswoman for accusers. She called the settlement "a day of reckoning and justice."