The Christian Brothers of Ireland, a Catholic religious order, has agreed to pay $16.5 million to settle the claims of more than 400 survivors of sexual and physical abuse. The order will also transfer ownership of various properties and certain insurance policies that may provide coverage of abuse claims.
In April 2011, two asset-holding corporations of the Christian Brothers, The Christian Brothers of Ireland, Inc., an Illinois corporation, and the Christian Brothers Institute, a New York corporation, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. According to court documents, the corporations filed for bankruptcy because of pending sexual abuse lawsuits, primarily in Washington state.
Since then, more than 400 men and women filed claims with the bankruptcy court, alleging they were sexually or physically abused by a Christian Brother or at a school run by the Christian Brothers. The religious order has owned or operated schools in the United States since the early 1900s.
Seattle sexual abuse attorney Jason P. Amala, who represents more than 80 abuse survivors in the bankruptcy, believes the settlement is vindication for his clients and others: “For years the Christian Brothers denied any wrongdoing, but this settlement acknowledges their role in decades of children being sexual abused at Catholic schools across the country. It not only begins to provide closure for our clients, but it will help offset the costs to their families and to society as a whole.”
Since approximately 2002, Amala and his law partner, Michael T. Pfau, have settled more than 50 claims against the Christian Brothers and the Seattle Archdiocese on behalf of men who claimed they were sexually abused at Catholic schools in Washington state, including O’Dea High School and Briscoe Memorial School. The total settlements exceeded $25 million. Pfau and Amala were pursuing ten more claims against the Christian Brothers in Washington when the religious order chose to file for bankruptcy protection.
Although the settlement applies to claims against the Christian Brothers of North America, it allows abuse survivors to pursue claims against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse. For example, more than 50 of the men represented by Pfau and Amala have filed claims in Washington and Illinois against other institutions that they allege are also responsible for the abuse, including the Seattle Archdiocese and the Archdiocese of Chicago. The settlement does not affect those claims, or the rights of other abuse survivors to file similar claims against the same or other entities.
According to Pfau, additional lawsuits may be filed against a number of other entities, including the owners of schools where abuse took place: “In many cases the local diocese or another entity owned the school and collected money from the school. Those entities are often just as liable for the abuse as the Christian Brothers. Many of our current clients intend to file claims against those entities, and I would not be surprised if more people come forward with similar claims.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the Christian Brothers have also agreed to a number of measures that are designed to protect children from sexual abuse. Pfau says the non-monetary terms were an important part of the settlement: “Our clients want to make sure history does not repeat itself. This settlement will help ensure future children are protected.”