Spokane Abuse Victims Demand Lie Detector Test of Jesuit Leader
By Nicholas K. Geranios
The Associated Press, carried in KGW [Spokane WA]
September 15, 2006
Advocates for people abused by Catholic priests are demanding that the Northwest leader of the Jesuits take a lie detector test regarding his knowledge of past abuse by the former president of Gonzaga University.
Victims' groups doubt that abuse by the late Rev. John Leary that was revealed last week was only recently discovered in Jesuit files.
"How can the Jesuits settle cases involving Leary but claim they have never read his file? It defies common sense," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
But the Rev. John D. Whitney of Portland, Ore., leader of the Oregon Province of Jesuits, declined the demand.
"I have neither need not desire to take a polygraph examination to prove myself truthful," Whitney wrote in a letter to SNAP he released to The Associated Press.
Whitney last week revealed that a search of old records ordered by a federal judge had found documents indicating that Leary was involved in the sexual abuse of boys or young men in the 1960s, and that the Jesuits and Spokane police covered up the abuse at the Jesuit-run school.
The documents were found during an investigation involving the late Rev. Michael Toulouse, a Jesuit who is subject of several civil child molestation lawsuits. Toulouse was a philosophy professor at Seattle University who died in 1976.
Leaders of SNAP immediately disputed Whitney's contention that the abuse cases against Leary had long been forgotten.
"The Jesuits are playing a shrewd PR game: Let's release the awful news first, before the court forces us, so it'll look like we're open," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, Mo., SNAP's national director. "They're giving information only because they've been compelled to do so."
Leary, who was raised in Burke, Idaho, was president of Gonzaga from 1961 to 1969. He resigned under pressure from Spokane police who said he must either leave town or be arrested. Leary, who died in 1993 at a retirement home for priests near the Gonzaga campus, cited health reasons for his resignation and was transferred to other university jobs in the West.
They included Utah State University, Santa Clara University in California; the New College of California, and Old College in Reno, Nev.
No sex abuse allegations have arisen from those later jobs, Whitney has said.
This is the first time in SNAPs 17-year history that the group has challenged a church official to take a polygraph.
"We find it nearly impossible to believe your claim that no one had 'carefully' read these documents before," SNAP wrote in a letter to Whitney.
Despite being aware of Leary's actions, "you and your colleagues chose to fabricate an elaborate scheme to protect the reputation of a sexual predator," the letter said.
Whitney rejected the suggestion that he was part of a scheme to protect Leary.
"That my predecessors (hardly my colleagues, since I was 11 years old in 1969) fabricated a story to protect Leary's departure is detestable," Whitney wrote. "That you do not believe my presentation of the facts is unfortunate."
It was unclear how many people were molested by Leary. Whitney said the Jesuits had settled directly with two victims from Spokane, for a total of more than $400,000. Two other people had named Leary in lawsuits filed against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.
Officials for SNAP contend Leary molested at least a dozen young people.
Current Gonzaga President Robert Spitzer sent a letter to university supporters this week, expressing regret for the Leary case.
"I would like to personally express my deepest sorrow and sympathy to the victims, their families, and to all of you," Spitzer, also a Jesuit, wrote.
Allegations against Leary first surfaced in 1966. He denied them and remained in office, the Jesuits said. No investigation was undertaken.
In 1969, Spokane authorities raised new allegations against Leary, giving him 24 hours to leave Spokane or face arrest, the Jesuits said.
Spokane police have said they have no knowledge of the incident. The police chief at the time, E.W. "Bill" Parsons, died in 1989.
The Jesuit order, also known as the Society of Jesus, has paid more than $7.5 million to settle scores of sex abuse claims across Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska in recent years. Dozens more are pending.
Leary joined the Gonzaga faculty in 1955, where he taught philosophy and served as dean of the school of education. In 1966, President Johnson named him to a council on strengthening small colleges.
A few months after resigning, Leary became a philosophy professor at Utah State University. A year later he became vice president of university relations at Santa Clara.
Leary moved again the following year, serving as the founder and first president of New College of California in Sausalito, Calif.
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