|At Gonzaga University/GU, Jennifer Raudebaugh|
The news yesterday that The Society of Jesus (usually called the Jesuits), Oregon Province, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is leading to a question of some significance: Who owns Gonzaga University and Seattle University, which are considered Jesuit institutions?
Predictably, the Jesuits say they are separately owned, and the plaintiffs suing them - this is a continuation of the long-running string of pedophile cases - say they are integrated enough that their assets, too, should be up for grabs.
It seems not an easy question. Look on the Oregon Province (it includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska) web site, and you'll find a number of references to Gonzaga and Seattle U, but little that explicitly links the church organization to them. The universities (and several other schools) are described as "educational ministries," but what does that mean in the context of ownership and asset?
A statement from Gonzaga President Rev. Robert J. Spitzer: "The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is a completely separate organization from Gonzaga University. Gonzaga was separately incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State in Washington in 1894. Gonzaga University's assets are its own and not subject to others’ creditors." It sounds like a credible argument, but we have yet to know what a court will think.
And what does it mean to the communities? Seattle University is a very substantial institution and a significant force in Seattle, but Gonzaga is a really major player in Spokane. Questions about its future go directly to the front burner there.