More Plaintiffs Join Abuse Lawsuit Against Jesuits

By Tim Klass | February 10, 2009

Twenty Alaska Natives have joined a lawsuit claiming they were abused by Jesuit priests or those supervised by Jesuits, and a lawyer said the head of the Roman Catholic order has been served with court papers naming him as a defendant.

With the amended lawsuit filed in Bethel, Alaska, and announced in Seattle, 63 Alaska Natives are suing the Society of Jesus and a number of priests, employees and volunteers, claiming they were sexually abused in remote Alaskan villages from the late 1940s to 2001.

Also added was a defendant, the Rev. Francis E. Case, who retired last year as secretary or second-ranking official of the order.

The 112-page lawsuit accuses Jesuits, employees and volunteers in the Fairbanks, Alaska, Diocese of abuse ranging from fondling to child rape in the Alaska towns of Nulato, Hooper Bay, Stebbins, Chevak, Mountain Village, Nunam Iqua and St. Michael. Jesuits known as abusers were sent from around the world to the remote hamlets, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, superior general and top official of the Jesuits in Rome, named as a defendant when the case was filed Jan. 13 in Alaska Superior Court, was served with the lawsuit in Los Angeles, said John C. Manly of Newport Beach, Calif., a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Nicolas was handed the documents while visiting Homeboy Industries, a job program run by a Jesuit priest for young people in gangs in Los Angeles, and did not give any response to the process server, Manly said. Plaintiffs are asking that Nicolas extend his U.S. trip to investigate abuse by Jesuits, the lawyer added.

Calls by The Associated Press to the Jesuit headquarters in Rome and the Jesuit Conference of the United States in Washington, D.C., were not immediately returned.

Case was provincial or head of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, which covers Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, from about 1986 to 1990, and knew or should have known about at least one priest, the Rev. Francis Nawn, who is accused of abusing three plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit.

Nawn is deceased. Case, who lives on the Seattle University campus, referred an e-mail request for comment to the Oregon Province in Portland, which did not immediately respond to a telephone call.

Case is described in the lawsuit as head of campus ministry and is listed on the school’s Web site as being involved in campus ministry, but university spokesman Casey Corr told The Seattle Times that information is incorrect. Case is not employed at Seattle University and has no formal role or duties with campus ministry, Corr said.

Listed previously as a defendant is Case’s successor as provincial, the Rev. Stephen V. Sundborg, president of Seattle University since July 1997.

Sundborg and the Very Rev. Patrick J. Lee, the current provincial, have denied they knew of sexual wrongdoing or were involved in covering up wrongdoing by priests, although the order has paid millions of dollars in recent years to settle sexual abuse claims in Alaska.

In a statement issued in January 2009 through a spokesman, Lee wrote that Jesuits were assigned to the Fairbanks Diocese at their own request because of their “deep desire to spread the gospel.”

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