Priest Admits Fathering Kids
Jesuit: Testimony Reveals from 1961-1976 He Had Four Children, Visited Prostitutes
By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News [Alaska]
March 3, 2007
A retired Catholic priest accused of sexual assault has revealed startling new information about his behavior decades ago while in rural Alaska, including that he fathered four children, carried on sexual relations with seven village women, and visited prostitutes during trips to Anchorage and Fairbanks.
James Jacobson, now 83, is a Jesuit who worked as a priest in Alaska from about 1961 to 1976. He also spent much of his career as a state prison chaplain in Oregon.
He now is living in a Jesuit retirement home in Spokane, Wash., where he gave a sworn statement Feb. 15 in a lawsuit that accuses him of sexual assault.
In his deposition, Jacobson denies forcing women or girls to have sex but admitted that he had relations with a number of women in rural Alaska.
A transcript was filed in Superior Court on Friday at the end of a hearing at which lawyers for the defense argued to dismiss the case on the grounds the issues are too old and the time for a suit is long past. The judge didn't immediately rule on that and other motions.
Two of Jacobson's sons, both now grown men, are suing him for child support and damages. The mother of one also is suing, as is a woman who accuses Jacobson of raping her decades ago when she was 16. The other mother is dead. The defendants are Jacobson, the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, commonly called the Jesuits, and the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks.
During the deposition, the plaintiffs' attorney, Chris Cooke of Anchorage, appeared taken aback when Jacobson revealed his proclivity for prostitutes. Here's a snippet of the exchange:
Q: (Cook): Beg your pardon?
A: (Jacobson): It wasn't only when I was in the Army.
Q: You went to, you went to prostitutes after you were a priest?
Q: Is that right? That's your testimony?
Q: Where did that take place?
A: Mostly Anchorage, sometimes Fairbanks.
Q: How many times?
A: I have no idea.
Jacobson said he frequented prostitutes in those cities when he was principal of the old Copper Valley School near Glennallen. That's a Jesuit boarding school that closed in 1971.
The women were street walkers and they'd usually go to a motel or his car, Jacobson said. He paid the prostitutes with church funds, he said.
"Well, it was the Jesuits' money. It was money that was given to me for, you know, the work I was doing," Jacobson testified.
DNA testing done in 2005 proved that Jacobson is the father of the two men now suing. When the results came back, the Oregon-based head of the region's Jesuits directed him to move into the retirement home in Washington, where he could be watched more closely, he said.
Jacobson testified that he didn't recall having sex with one of the women who had his child but didn't doubt that it happened, because of the test results. He disputed her assertion that he sexually assaulted her.
"I believe -- I know that I didn't force her. I don't remember any particular time that I had a sexual relationship with her, but I'm positive I didn't force her or anybody else."
Cooke asked him how he could be so sure if he didn't even remember her.
"Just, I know my actions," Jacobson responded. Later, he added: "As far as my forcing any woman to have sex with me, I know I haven't, I didn't."
He disclosed that he knew of two other children he had fathered in Alaska besides those in the lawsuit. One mother didn't keep the child, a boy. He wanted to help the other child, a daughter, and went to where the mother was living with her parents.
"And they asked me not to come around or not to bother them, or I'm not sure what the words were, but that was the idea, that they were embarrassed by me coming around," he testified.
The mothers' families would take care of the children, he said.
He said he didn't know he had fathered two other children until the DNA testing in 2005.
He said he had been celibate since starting his training as a priest in 1949 until around 1964, when he began a sexual relationship with a married woman in the Western Alaska village of Cherfornak.
"It was a mutual thing, kind of a flirtation I guess," Jacobson said. She's the late mother of one of his children.
During his time as a priest in various Western Alaska villages, he said, he believes he had sexual relations with seven women, upping his previous estimate from five made in an earlier statement. Two were teenage girls, and none of the women had the ability to resist a priest, one of the most powerful people in the community, Cooke said.
Jacobson testified he knew it was wrong but was alone in a remote parish. He felt guilty. He went to confession, sought absolution and believes his sins have been forgiven.
Still, as dramatic as they are, these events happened many years ago. Lawyers for the defendants told the judge Friday that the statute of limitations ran out long ago.
"We're four decades out. I'm a little bit reminded of the character in the Alice in Wonderland that went, 'I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.' Well we are late. We're very late," said Fairbanks attorney Robert Groseclose, who represents the Fairbanks diocese.
The evidence is stale, he said. The church bishops involved have passed on. They can't help the defendants piece together what the church knew or didn't know about Jacobson's behavior.
But Cooke said there are unusual circumstances at play. First, Jacobson left Alaska in 1976, returning only for a brief spell in 1979. That should set aside the normal deadline for filing a civil suit, Cooke said.
Plus, there's the question of whether plaintiffs from rural Alaska villages could be expected to know back in the 1960s or 1970s that a lawsuit was even an option, Cooke said.
Bethel Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Peter Ashman, who was in Anchorage for the hearing, said he would rule in the next few weeks.
Daily News reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 257-4390.
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