Priest Seeks Shield of Poverty Vow
Child Support - Two Men Fathered by the Retired Jesuit in Spokane Seek Restitution
By Ashbel S. Green
March 6, 2007
A retired Jesuit priest and former Oregon prison chaplain contends that his vow of poverty prevents two men recently identified as his children from collecting back child support.
The Rev. James E. Jacobson, 83, also is asking an Alaska judge to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses him of sexually assaulting a teenage girl because the victim came forward decades later.
Jacobson worked in remote Yup'ik Eskimo villages from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s. In a deposition filed in an Alaska court, Jacobson acknowledged having sex with more than half a dozen women, but denied using force. He also acknowledged using church money to hire prostitutes and said he was aware of fathering two other children besides the men who are suing him for child support.
After leaving Alaska, Jacobson later worked as an Oregon prison chaplain for 25 years before retiring in 2005. An attorney for the plaintiffs said Jacobson's sons are entitled to a share of the more than $1 million in salary Jacobson earned while he worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections.
Christopher R. Cooke, an Anchorage-based attorney, said Jacobson also has cashed out more than $500,000 in state retirement benefits and transferred the money to the Jesuits since his clients filed their suit two years ago.
Cooke said the law was unsettled on whether Catholic priests or their religious orders had to pay child support, but the fact that Jacobson was a state employee for a quarter-century made this case different.
Jacobson, who lives in a priest retirement community in Spokane, belongs to the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits.
In Oregon, Jacobson once received the Salvation Army's national award for Chaplain of the Year and the American Catholic Correctional Chaplain Association's Maximilian Kolbe Award.
"We are saddened that one of our members has failed to live the life he promised, and we hope that we might find a way to reconcile with those whose lives have been affected by this tragic failure," the Rev. John D. Whitney, the Portland-based provincial superior, said in a statement.
"As in all matters of this type, we see the suffering of the women and men involved, and look for a direct, just, and pastoral solution -- though we understand that sometimes litigation is the only path available. While we participate responsibly in such litigation when we must, we continue to hope for a compassionate and healing solution, which includes a more profound and lasting reconciliation than can easily be found in an adversarial system."
Ashbel "Tony" Green: 503-221-8202; firstname.lastname@example.org
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