Reparations


In September 2001, I spent a few days in Gdansk, Poland, in the days following September 11th. This town formerly was known to the world as Danzig, Germany. A few borders had changed in the aftermath of World War I. This was where the first shots of World War II were fired in September 1939. The world powers had once attempted to address war reparations throughout Europe in 1919. There were undertows to history of those war reparations that lasted for more than a decade.

The passions of American history can be aroused when discussion centers over the issue of reparations over issues of slavery. Almost one hundred fifty years later, descendants have wondered out loud about monetary damages owed them as descendants of slaves, as corporations grew on the backs of slave labor.

Nazi gold. The search for art that rightfully belonged to Jews who were disenfranchised of all possessions. When the Berlin Wall came down, people were coming to Gdansk asking for the property back that had never been sold, where families had never received compensation for what was unjustly taken.

In Oregon, there was a news story sometime around February 18, 2009 over the pending bankruptcy of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits of the Oregon Province seemingly staff both Gonzaga University and Seattle University in a part of the country that carries some of the most secular beliefs in the United States. It is true that not all academic assignments within the Society of Jesus follow strict boundaries, regarding the affiliation of anyone Jesuit to this province. But the bankruptcy would seem to have real affect on the future Jesuit identity of these institutions.

A Portland attorney by the name of Kelly Clark felt compelled to issue a statement on the filing of the bankruptcy on Tuesday by the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. One hundred years from now not many people are going to remember Kelly Clark, if he was a man or a woman. Kelly Clark, one news story reported, was making a living representing a number of clients who allegedly were abused by Catholic priests and nuns. Kelly Clark, expressed delight that “justice will be done ….for some of these victims who have carried the shame and brokenness of childhood sexual abuse.” Unlike the Jesuits who take a vow of poverty, Kelly Clark apparently believes, as does American jurisprudence, that justice will be done with dollars, and punishments are to be measured in dollars. “My clients would say this to anyone who would blame them for the Jesuits’ financial trouble: ‘The Jesuits should look in the mirror; they have no one to blame for their predicament but themselves. What the Jesuits are seeing is simply the consequences of their own actions,’” the statement read.

Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus put out their own statement which noted the province had settled more than 200 claims and paid more than $25 million to victims since 2001, an amount that did not include payments made by insurers.

American jurisprudence does not look at the source of funding for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. I dare say the source of the riches of the Oregon Province is in the hearts of those who financially support the mission of these priests. The reparations paid to victims of sexual abuse came from funding that was to feed the hungry, educate the ignorant, attend to the spiritual needs of believers.

There was a certain irony in the Kelly Clarks with their law licenses, and their “holier than thou” speeches about really holy people. Not seeing the affect on generation in his/her part of the country, where secularism was the fastest growing faith.

So how much do you want, Kelly Clark? From the real source of funding for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, since these men actually took a vow of poverty. Since reparations are to be measured in dollars against men with a vow of poverty, with ideally no self interest, the real source of funding is in today’s earnings. Can we offer slave labor of all the Jesuits of the Oregon Province as reparations? Can we offer the slave labor to your law firm to disburse of 20,000 graduates of Jesuit institutions? Can we offer the labor of descendants of graduates of Jesuit high schools and universities of the Northwest? For the next generation? How much is enough?

It seems a fair conclusion to reach that the legal actions against these Jesuits who stole a part of life, where without a statute of limitation, were essentially ones of strict liability, where the discussion was only about damages. About reparations.

There was little discussion about other collaborators in the wrongdoing of sexual abuse. About police and public defenders who did not bring charges. Most of these cases left lingering seem to have involved incidents which happened more than 7 years ago. Sue the police for not doing their job?

The Kelly Clarks of the world and their own legal network fostered by Jeffrey Andersons of the world, communicating within their own network of the trial lawyer association, on how to proceed, the tactics to use, the statements to release. These slam dunks cases were essentially cases of strict liability, with no defenses to raise. In the day when the Obama administration is even resurrecting the defense of sovereign immunity, where no one could not sue the king, the Kelly Clarks of the world had their guns pointed at the Pope.

The Kelly Clarks of the world never seemed to ask to punish these men in criminal courts. They never seemed to criticize the state’s attorney with jurisdiction over criminal matters. Not when the offenses occurred so long ago. Because there are no contingency fees in criminal cases, these trial lawyers wanted to keep this in the civil courts. When there was no defense about the lambs of the world whose lives, the innocent part, were taken. Even as the Catholic world watched other adult Jesuits, who had no part in the mismanagement, suffer in silence.

In cases of obvious liability, when it was all about money, no defense attorney wanted to question the victims. The Kelly Clarks of the world, the Jeffrey Andersons, who certainly have theorized how to get at a share of the wealth of Rome. Because that was the source of this bad management.

The Kelly Clarks of the world, the Jeffrey Andersons, the Mr. Potters. There is this scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where Jimmy Stewart is telling his bank patrons: “We don’t’ have your money, Charlie. Your money is in Joe’s house…that’s right next to yours. And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and, and in one hundred others.” It was how a savings and loan work. It was how the world worked.

In the world of finance, Americans are getting a new fear of how things work in times of panic. In other times when without the FDIC, people reacted to affect bank runs. Suddenly those black and white scenes on the Turner Classic Movie channel seemed much more real. The dark ages always had potential to return. In the discussion of “too big to fail,” count the Roman Catholic Church into the discussion.

There were still individuals trying to profit off disasters. Like news teams who saved stories for Sweep Week in February and May. All those folks trying to profit off disasters. In places like Somalia. Where war lords, with their own kingdom and power, reign. Where piracy is making a comeback.
The resolution of jurisprudence over the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, over similar litigation in Philadelphia, in Boston, was larger than the amounts of reparations involved. There was little understanding of the undertow, for generations.

Nazi gold. Jewish property. Those ongoing searches for the owners of art that was wrongfully taken from people in Nazi occupied Europe. To find the rightful owner, in a world filled with injustice. In a world where borders do change. In a world where attempts to address reparations is ongoing, but with little understanding of the aftermath of reparations.

A few borders had again changed in the aftermath of World War II. There had always been undertows to history beyond reparations, undertows that lasted for generations. Individually. Communally. Whether over issues of slavery, over issues of war, or over issues of sexual abuse. Whether an undertow to sexual abuse, when a kid sexually abused saw no boundary to abuse another innocent youth. Or whether to a nation who felt something had been taken away and saw no boundaries in trying to get that “something back.”

(Post script: Statistics show that there are two-and-a-half to three times as many cases of sexual abuse in the American public schools as there are in the Roman Catholic Church. But those institutions are funded with tax dollars. And tax payers complained loudly, whereas people who gave out of charity did not.)

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