Priest Assaulted Women, Fathered Children, Suit Says
Allegations: Jesuit James E. Jacobson Is Accused of Sexual Abuse
By Lisa Demer
Anchorage Daily News
October 14, 2005
A Jesuit priest decades ago sexually assaulted two women in different Western Alaska villages who became pregnant and gave birth to his sons, a new lawsuit alleges.
The children, now grown, and the mother of one filed suit Thursday afternoon in Bethel Superior Court against the priest, James E. Jacobson, the Fairbanks Diocese, and the Jesuits of the Oregon Province and Alaska. The other mother is dead.
"In effect, these Native children of the Church were abandoned and left to be raised and cared for by their impoverished Native families in rural Alaska," the plaintiff's attorney, Chris Cooke, wrote in a statement to news reporters.
Cooke is a partner of Ken Roosa in the firm Cooke, Roosa & Valcarce, which has offices in Anchorage and Bethel. Roosa has filed a number of other complaints against the Catholic Church alleging sexual abuse by priests and other church leaders.
Jacobson, who is now about 80, worked as a priest in Alaska from about 1963 to 1976 in various Yup'ik villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the suit says. He later became a prison chaplain in Oregon and worked at the state penitentiary in Salem. In 2003, the Salvation Army gave him an award as prison chaplain of the year at a conference of the American Correctional Association in Nashville, according to the group's Web site.
The priest now lives in a Jesuit home in Spokane, Ore. When contacted by telephone Thursday evening about the suit, he hung up without saying a word.
The new complaint is the latest in a number of lawsuits and claims against the Catholic Church in Alaska, most of them on behalf of individuals who said they were sexually abused as children. The new suit is the first to allege that an Alaska priest fathered children with an unwilling partner.
"I believe that their will was over-born by the priest through physical strength, through intimidation or in one case intoxication of the victim," said Cooke, the attorney who filed the suit.
The suit uses pseudonyms for the plaintiffs, who don't want to be named because of the personal, sensitive nature of the case.
DNA testing showed a high probability that Jacobson fathered the boys, the lawsuit said. Test results filed with the complaint state that there's a 99.5 percent probability that he's the father of "John A. Doe" and 99.95 percent that he fathered "John B. Doe."
Jacobson sexually assaulted the mother of John A. Doe in the priest's quarters at a Bethel area village in about December 1965, the suit contends. The child was born in August 1966 and in his early years thought his mother's husband was his father. But rumors and teasing about the possibility the priest was his father dogged him, Cooke said.
"The individuals came to me, the children, because they wanted to know if the gossip and rumors they had heard over the years was true," he said.
After John A. Doe's mother became pregnant, Jacobson was moved out of the village, Cooke said. She since has died.
Around February 1975, Jacobson sexually assaulted the mother of John B. Doe in the church rectory in another Bethel-area village, the suit said. She, too, was married. The child was born in November 1975.
The mother, "Jane B. Doe," spoke mainly Yup'ik and had little formal schooling, the suit said. She was sexually assaulted more than once, it said. Shortly after she became pregnant, Jacobson was moved from Alaska to Oregon, the suit says.
She suffered emotional distress, loss of self esteem, disgrace, humiliation and lost affection from her husband, an Alaska Native, according to the suit.
Both men suffered as well. They grew up without knowing their biological father, without child support and without his support and guidance. All three lost faith in God and the Catholic Church, the suit said.
The Diocese of Fairbanks and the Jesuits failed in their duty to place and supervise Jacobson, the suit contends. They knew or should have known he was not celibate and had sex with Alaska Native women in rural villages, it said. He is believed to have fathered other children as well, according to the suit.
"The defendants' primary motives in this scheme were to avoid any disclosure that would affect their reputation, their community standing and the monetary contributions they received from parishioners in Alaska, from parishes and parishioners of the Catholic Church nationwide and worldwide, and from the general public," the suit says.
A spokeswoman for the Fairbanks Diocese, reached at home Thursday evening, said she hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment on it.
"As always, we take these allegations very seriously, and we certainly will be working on it as soon as we receive the suit," said Ronnie Rosenberg, director of human resources for the diocese.
The two men want a court order declaring that Jacobson is their father, as well as information about Jacobson's medical history and that of his immediate family. They also want the identity and addresses of the family members. All three also are seeking damages.
Reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 257-4390.
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