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  Church Acknowledges Nome Priest Abuse, Settles Civil Suit
Apology: Jesuit Priests of Oregon Province Call Actions of James Poole Inexcusable
Elsie Boudreau Said a Priest, Now Retired, Molested Her

By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News [Alaska]
April 5, 2005

The Catholic Church on Monday admitted that a former Nome priest committed sexual misconduct and said that it has settled a civil lawsuit that resulted from the abuse.

The Jesuits of the Oregon Province apologized for the actions of retired priest James Poole and called what he did inexcusable. The Jesuits and the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese together paid around $1 million to settle the case, according to the victim's attorneys, the diocese and a spokesman for the Jesuits.

The case concerns a woman, now 37, who accused Poole of kissing and fondling her dozens of times starting in 1978 when she was 10. The abuse included heavy petting and having her lie on top of him, the lawsuit said. It continued until she turned 19 and wrote him a letter saying she never wanted to be alone with him again, said the complainant, Elsie Boudreau. The lawsuit that she filed last year concentrates on the time she was 16 and younger.

"We admit that the sexual misconduct alleged to have occurred by James Poole did occur, and we are deeply sorry for it," said the Rev. John Whitney, head of the Jesuits' Oregon Province, who was reading from a prepared statement. The province includes Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Poole, now in his 80s, did not return calls to the Jesuit home in Spokane where he lives. In the past, he called Boudreau's claims "highly inflammatory and highly exaggerated."

Boudreau, who is married with two children, filed suit as Jane Doe but has agreed to be named publicly.

She said she spoke the truth in her case and is glad the information came out. "I think in that way I guess I've won," she said. "I don't like using that term."

Still, Boudreau said, the Jesuits' apology didn't seem genuine after the bitter yearlong court battle, and she questioned the timing, just as sympathy is focused on the Catholic Church because of the death of Pope John Paul II. Bruce Pozzi, a public relations person for the Jesuits, said the timing was coincidental; the settlement documents have just been signed.

Boudreau and her lawyers said they are especially disturbed that the church continues to maintain it didn't know Poole was a problem. They also said the church minimized what happened by calling it "misconduct."

"It is hard to accept their apology when you know they've known the truth for years and years and are continuing to cover it up," Boudreau said.

In particular, in 1962 then-Fairbanks Bishop Francis Gleeson was warned that in the village of St. Marys, Poole would take girls out of class and spend hours alone with them in a secluded part of his private office, the lawsuit said. A Jesuit volunteer reported that, and nuns made the same observation, said one of Boudreau's attorneys, Ken Roosa.

In his statement Monday, Whitney said, "I do not believe that, for years, we knew of his abusive behavior, and when we first received credible reports of inappropriate behavior with minors, we immediately removed him from all ministry."

Poole's file at the Fairbanks diocese didn't contain any suggestion that Poole was molesting girls, said Ronnie Rosenberg, diocese director of human resources.

The diocese has reached out to parishioners to make sure children know to tell an adult if someone touches them inappropriately, Rosenberg said.

"It has to be a constant effort to take victims seriously at all times, to educate children and families to come forward and to take people seriously when they do come forward," she said.

The Jesuits also have worked with other orders to identify and eliminate conditions that lead to abuse, Whitney said in the statement.

In the past 50 or so years, 16 priests in the five-state Oregon province have been accused of misconduct with minors, out of more than 600 Jesuits in the ministry, the statement said.

"It is something that happens in society, and we're not immune to that. It's a terrible thing. A terrible thing," he said in a brief telephone interview.

Poole's "actions were inexcusable, contrary to everything in our documents and our training," Whitney said in the statement.

Poole founded Catholic radio station KNOM in Nome and was assigned to Holy Cross, Pilot Station, Marshall, Mountain Village, St. Marys, Barrow and Nome over a 40-year career.

The Fairbanks diocese got the money for its share of the settlement through insurance policies and by selling land, Rosenberg said.

Boudreau is one of three women who has made public claims against Poole. One, Patricia Hess, settled her case last year with the Fairbanks diocese and the Jesuits for an undisclosed amount. In the third case, which is pending, Jane Doe 2 contends Poole got her pregnant at age 14 and told her to have an abortion.

Boudreau said she had received strong support since speaking publicly. She said she knows that she wasn't the one who did anything wrong and that the experience is liberating.

"It's OK to talk about these things," Boudreau said. "It's almost like solidifying my voice."

 
 

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