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  4 Women Sue Priest, Allege Sex Assaults
Longtime Loyola prof, now ailing, accused of abuse in '60s, '70s

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times
September 9, 2003

Patrice Regnier remembers the priest taking her into the bedroom of her parents' Winnetka house to hear her confession.

But there was no confession. Instead, she says, the priest sexually assaulted her. He told her the crucifix had come to life and instructed him to do what he was doing to her. He told her God was watching.

Regnier was 13, and the Roman Catholic priest was a friend of her devoutly religious family who often said mass in their living room and stayed overnight. The sexual abuse continued for about two years, she said.

[Photo captions: Jesuit priest and best-selling author the Rev. John Powell, who Patrice Regnier accused Monday of sexual abuse. RIGHT: Powell, a friend of Regnier's family, is shown in 1965 or 1966 in Regnier's home with Regnier (right) and Regnier's sister.]

According to a lawsuit Regnier and three other women filed in a Cook County court Monday, the Rev. John Powell, a Jesuit priest, longtime Loyola University professor and best-selling author of Christian books, sexually abused them between 1966 and 1973.

Powell, 77, is the author of two dozen books -- many of them mixing Catholic theology and spiritual devotion with psychology and self-help -- that have sold more than 15 million copies.

A well-regarded counselor and retreat master described by admirers as "magnetic," Powell is now retired and living in a Jesuit convalescent home near Detroit. He is in extremely frail health, said the Rev. Daniel Flaherty, treasurer for the Chicago province of the Jesuits.

Powell, who was ordained in 1956 and taught at Loyola from 1967 until his retirement in 1996, was unable to come to the phone at the convalescent home Monday afternoon to speak with a reporter.

The three other women -- known only as "Jane Doe 49A-C" -- who filed suit with Regnier against Powell and the Jesuit order were college-aged girls when they say the priest abused them. One of the women was a student at Loyola. Another is Regnier's older sister.

An allegation of sexual abuse by Powell was reported to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago in April, said spokesman Jim Dwyer. When archdiocesan investigators contacted the Jesuits to determine Powell's ministry status, they were told he was "unable to perform priestly duties any more," Dwyer said.

Neither Flaherty nor an attorney for the Jesuits could say whether the religious order had been aware of any allegations of abuse against Powell before Monday.

However, correspondence between one of the Jane Does and Powell indicates that his Jesuit superiors were aware of her allegation. After the woman sent a letter to Loyola's faculty director in February 1983 -- recounting a sexual encounter she says she had with Powell when she was 19 and home on Christmas break -- Powell wrote back to her, saying his religious superior had read her letter to him.

"I would like to invite you to write directly to me, to say whatever you have been thinking or feeling. I think it would be good for both of us," Powell wrote. Jeffrey Anderson, the woman's attorney, said she never heard directly from the Jesuits.

Regnier, 50, a professional choreographer for a modern dance troupe in New York City, met Powell when she was in seventh grade after her mother went on a retreat led by the priest.

"One of my sisters wanted to become a cloistered nun, and [my mother] was worried about that. So she brought [Powell] home," Regnier said. "One time when he was taking off my shirt . . . he told me about this nun who had opened her habit to poor children in Africa to give of herself, that she was nursing these kids. . . . Father Powell reached in and ripped out my soul."

 
 

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