Priest Faces Lawsuit for Child Support
Jesuits Say in Court Papers They Are Not Obligated to Pay
By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News [Alaska]
February 7, 2007
An Alaska child support case winding its way through court offers a new twist on an old scandal: The accused deadbeat father is a Roman Catholic priest.
The two "kids" suing him and the Jesuits for support are now grown men with children of their own.
Jesuit leaders have known for nearly 40 years that Father James Jacobson had children here and eventually kept him out of Alaska to avoid "any possible scandal for the Church in Alaska," according to a new legal filing on behalf of his two sons. The mother of one of the men also is suing Jacobson for child support and damages. The other mother has died.
Messages left for Jacobson and his attorney on Tuesday were not returned. Efforts to reach the Jesuits and their attorneys were also unsuccessful.
"They say he shouldn't have to pay child support because he's a priest and took a vow of poverty," said Anchorage attorney Chris Cooke, who filed the child support motion in January for the three, identified in court documents only as John A. Doe, John B. Doe, and Jane B. Doe.
Jacobson always has turned his money over to his religious order, Society of Jesus Oregon Province, which covers Alaska. He can't keep money because he is a priest, his lawyer, Joan Unger of Anchorage, wrote in opposing the motion for child support. The Jesuits say in court papers they don't have to pay child support for priests.
But being a priest doesn't erase the responsibility to care for one's children, Cooke said. Nor does time wipe away the obligation.
No one disputes that Jacobson fathered the two men. Relying on DNA testing in 2005, a Bethel judge in May declared him to be the biological father of both John Does.
Their mothers, both married at the time, were sexually assaulted by Jacobson and became pregnant, according to a lawsuit filed in Bethel Superior Court in October 2005. Jacobson also is accused in the suit of raping a 16-year-old girl in another Western Alaska village.
Jacobson, now 83, was ordained as a Jesuit priest and worked in Alaska from about 1961 to 1976 in various Yup'ik villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. He also was a school principal at a Jesuit school near Glennallen for a spell. He later became a prison chaplain in Oregon.
He took "simple vows of poverty, chastity and obedience," according to documents provided by the Jesuits and quoted in court papers.
"Apparently Father Jacobson did not adhere to his vow of chastity," Cooke wrote in a footnote to one of his filings.
The court case provides a rare view into how the Jesuits responded decades ago to complaints about a priest.
According to a letter written in 1967 and included as an exhibit in the case, the Jesuits heard accusations from Nelson Island about "very serious moral charges" against Jacobson but left it to the Fairbanks diocese to investigate. A bishop looked into it and concluded the accusations came out of grudges and local politics, the Jesuit Superior in Alaska, Jules Convert, wrote in the 1967 letter to the head of the order in Portland.
The letter went on to say even more. The Bethel magistrate, "a good Catholic woman," told Convert that many people knew that Jacobson had two children on the island.
One of the men suing for child support was born in 1966.
"Consulted, the Bishop decided to just drop this last case and move Father to St. Michael with a good admonition to watch his relationship with women; he apparently just took this new charge as a rebound of the old stories, by someone with a grudge," Convert wrote. Anyway, he said, he had observed a number of police investigations in villages and had "come to the conclusion our people are not yet advanced enough to give impartial and true testimony."
The second "child" was born in November 1975.
In 1976, Jacobson began a yearlong sabbatical in Berkeley, Calif. A letter in April 1977 to Jacobson from the head of the Oregon Province indicated through the use of odd euphemisms that the Jesuits had real concerns about him. The provincial at the time, William Loyens, told Jacobson he had received a threat that Jacobson and his "repeated involvements" would be exposed if he returned to Alaska.
Jacobson never worked again in Alaska.
Instead, he served as a paid chaplain in an Oregon prison from 1979 to 2005. He now lives in a Jesuit home in Spokane, Wash.
Since his children were born, Jacobson has received more than $1.5 million in salary and pension, but it all went to the Jesuits and neither he nor the religious order ever gave his children a dime, the legal filings say.
His sons grew up hardscrabble and unsure of who they really were, Cooke said. One, now 40, is in the Alaska National Guard and is serving in Kuwait. The other, 31, has worked as a plumber's apprentice.
It's uncommon for a child support case to be brought once the child is grown but not unheard of, Cooke said. The John Does only now are able to do so since they've just established paternity, he said.
This is the first time, as far as Cooke knows, that Alaskans have sought child support from a Catholic priest, but there have been other cases around the country.
One in the Portland area got national attention in 2005. Through those court proceedings, the public learned the Portland archdiocese had argued against support in 1994 on the grounds that the mother should have used birth control when she had sex with the priest. Catholics were outraged. Birth control went against Catholic doctrine.
As for Jacobson, his son John A. Doe is seeking nearly $325,000 in child support. John B. Doe is seeking more than $270,000.
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