Jesuits Say Educator Abused Boys
Gonzaga - Oregon Jesuit Officials Report a College President's Sex Offenses and the Order's Cover-Up
By Kimberly A.C. Wilson
September 9, 2006
John Leary, Gonzaga University's president throughout the 1960s, sexually abused teenage boys there, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus said Friday.
The Jesuit priest's actions in Spokane -- which current Jesuit officials acknowledged in two recent settlements with victims -- were hidden at the time, and Leary was reassigned to posts in Massachusetts, Utah, Nevada and California.
He died in 1993.
The Rev. John D. Whitney of Portland, leader of the Oregon Province, apologized for the pain caused by Leary's abuse and a near 40-year cover-up.
"We've been asked to report any information about sexual abuse of minors in the province from 1969 to the present," Whitney said. "Any people who might have been hurt, we're looking to offer healing."
In the past year, the province has settled two sex-abuse claims involving Leary. Two other alleged Leary victims are among those who have filed claims totaling more than $81 million against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Whitney said. Dozens of claims against other priests led the diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2004. In its bankruptcy petition, the diocese listed assets of $11 million.
Whitney first learned details of Leary's abuse last month while preparing court documents in other cases. A staffer in the Portland offices of the Oregon Province uncovered minutes from meetings led by Whitney's predecessor, the Rev. John Kelley.
"He came to me and said, 'Have you ever really read this?' " Whitney said. "We had never read them carefully."
The records were startling, he said, not only because they indicated that Leary abused as many as 12 youths -- a long-whispered rumor -- "but because they showed that the province had a role in not following it forward." Whitney declined to say exactly how old the victims were or whether they were Gonzaga students. But he professed to want to clear the air.
"We want the whole thing out; I don't want my successor to come in here and still be haunted by old stories," he said, a risk because "nobody saves records like Jesuits seem to."
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, reacted incredulously to the announcement that the details were recently uncovered.
"Frankly, it's hard to believe these documents were just 'found,' " Clohessy wrote in an e-mail. "At least a dozen times in the past few years, church officials have made identical claims, almost always after such records could have been crucial in litigation."
John Manly, an attorney from Newport Beach, Calif., has deposed Whitney three times in other priest-abuse cases that netted between $5 million and $6 million from the Oregon Province.
He, too, expressed skepticism.
"The Oregon Province probably has the worst record of being candid in the entire country," Manly said. "The only reason they've released this is because they perceive it to be in their own best interest. It should have happened 30 years ago, when they first knew."
Leary served as president of Gonzaga, a Jesuit-run university, from 1961 to 1969. Allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced in 1966. Leary denied them, and notes show he wrote about talking to the parents of his accuser about the "misunderstanding," Whitney said. No investigation was undertaken, and Leary, at the time one of the most important figures in Spokane, remained in office.
Police: 'Get out of town'
Three years later, according to the meeting minutes, Spokane police brought new sex allegations against Leary to Jesuit officials and offered Leary a deal: Leave Spokane within 24 hours or face arrest.
"When the police came and said, 'Come and get this guy out of town,' it was like an apple being offered to the province," Whitney said, "and we took it."
Kelley, then head of the Jesuits in the Northwest, agreed and crafted the story that Leary was resigning because of ill health.
According to news reports at the time, Leary was sent to Boston "to recuperate" at the Cranwell Preparatory School, a Jesuit school for boys.
He was soon moved to a post as a philosophy professor at Utah State University. Three years later, Leary moved to Sausalito, Calif., where he founded the New College of California "because of his dissatisfaction with the current American model of undergraduate education," according to the school's Web site.
No sex-abuse allegations have arisen from those later assignments, said Whitney, reached in Spokane, where he spoke with reporters.
In light of the documents, Whitney said he plans to have Leary's name removed from a university scholarship set up in his memory.
Kimberly Wilson: 503-412-7017; firstname.lastname@example.org
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