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8 sue DSHS for alleged abuse at Jesuit school FieldGroup

November 23, 2011

Eight people who spent a portion of their childhoods living in a Jesuit school in Omak as wards of the state filed suit against the state Department of Social and Health Services on Tuesday for placing them under the care of people they say abused them.

Eight people who spent a portion of their childhoods living in a Jesuit school in Omak as wards of the state filed suit against the state Department of Social and Health Services on Tuesday for placing them under the care of people they say abused them.

In March, the Jesuits in the Northwest agreed to pay $166.1 million to about 500 victims who were abused for decades. Most victims of the abuse, which occurred in remote Alaskan villages and boarding schools on Northwest tribal lands, were Native American, and their abusers Jesuit priests or people supervised by the priests.

Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki, who represented dozens of victims in the Jesuit settlement, is now representing eight alleged victims from St. Mary’s Mission and Boarding School in Omak.

Three of the alleged victims at St. Mary’s boarding school told their stories during a news conference in Seattle on Tuesday.

Dwayne Paul, 53, of Omak, said that he kept memories of the assaults bottled up inside until recently. The sexual abuse he said he experienced started almost immediately after he arrived at the school, according to Paul and the civil complaint for damages filed in the case.

“The physical abuse started from the time I was in first grade and got worse from then on,” said Paul, who was at the school until eighth grade.

The multimillion-dollar settlement reached by the Jesuits earlier this year was part of a bankruptcy agreement. Of the 500 victims, about 470 suffered sexual abuse. About two dozen others were physically abused. Insurance companies were asked to pay $118 million of the settlement, with the Jesuits paying $48.1 million.

The settlement was one of the largest monetary payouts nationwide in the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse crisis.

Tamaki said victims of the massive settlement did not receive much money because it was split among so many people. He said he hopes victims can get the money they deserve by suing the Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS).

The eight alleged victims filing suit against DSHS are Native American and lived at the school in the 1950s through the 1970s. Most of the eight say they were abused by the Rev. John Morse. Tamaki said Morse can be linked to nearly 100 instances of abuse.

Morse has denied the allegations.

Theresa Bessette, 53, of Omak, said the sexual abuse caused her devastating emotional problems — for a long time she couldn’t trust men, couldn’t trust anyone caring for her and was tremendously overprotective of her own children.

“Father Morse was supposed to be my protector. He allowed me to be hurt and not to be safe,” Bessette said.

Morse now lives in a private retirement facility financed by the Jesuits in Spokane and is under 24-hour supervision, Tamaki said. Morse has never been charged criminally because of statute-of-limitation requirements.

Paul said he tried, as a young child, to tell authorities about what was going on at St. Mary’s and get help. But, he said, the state social worker he met with didn’t ask him to elaborate about the “bad things” he was talking about.

“She said everything is going to be all right. She told me that I shouldn’t be making up stories,” Paul said, adding, “Who was going to believe a little kid?”

Officials at DSHS declined to comment Tuesday.

Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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