April 27, 2021
By Deirdre Fernandez
Boston College’s president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, is facing growing criticism that he mishandled student complaints about inappropriate behavior by a priest in the late 1990s who has recently been accused of sexual assault.
A DePaul University postgraduate student has alleged that the Rev. Ted Dziak, the former leader of an international Jesuit service group who worked at BC for eight years, forcefully had sex with him at least four times in Central America when the two had been drinking. The alleged assaults happened in 2004, several years after Dziak had left BC, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, which first reported the allegations in mid-April.
The former post-graduate told the newspaper that he suspects Dziak drugged him as well, and he views what occurred as rape because he was too incapacitated to consent. The man, Tim Ballard, has filed complaints with the FBI, authorities in Belize and Guatemala, and the Indiana attorney general’s office where he lives, according to the newspaper.
Authorities have not pursued the case and since the alleged assaults occurred when he was an adult and he didn’t file charges at the time, it is unclear what, if anything, can be done legally.
But several BC students, staff, and at least one faculty member were concerned enough about Dziak’s emotional and mental abuse, and inappropriate behavior with young people while he was on the BC campus from 1990 until 1998, to complain to both Leahy and the Rev. Robert Levens, who was the regional leader for the Jesuits in the New England area, according to The Heights, the college’s student newspaper.
“Multiple members of the BC community made complaints to Leahy about Reverend Dziak’s abusive behavior and warned he should not be allowed to supervise students and young adults,” a petition calling for Leahy’s removal and signed by 400 people after it was launched Tuesday, reads. “Leahy, like so many others in the Catholic Church, failed to ensure this behavior would be stopped, enabling Dziak to prey on countless others in the future.”
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Leahy said none of the complaints he received in 1997 and 1998 involved sexual misconduct and that he met with students and reported their concerns to Dziak’s Jesuit superiors.
“There were no reports of sexual misconduct by Father Dziak at that time and none have been made since,” said Leahy, who has been BC’s president since 1996. “I discussed these matters with Father Dziak and reported them to his Jesuit superiors, emphasizing aspects of his behavior that conflicted with university standards.”
Jack Dunn, a BC spokesman, said Leahy had no formal basis to discipline Dziak at the time, “as the concerns raised pertained to social interactions with students.”
During his time at BC, Dziak was the athletics chaplain, the first director of the college’s Neighborhood Center, which connects students with the Allston-Brighton community, and helped to expand international service programs at the campus.
But Leahy said that he had no role in Dziak’s assignments or supervision after he left BC in 1998.
“I was never Father Dziak’s religious superior, and was not consulted by the Province about his assignment to Jamaica or any subsequent assignment,” Leahy said in a statement.
After BC, Dziak went on to work at a prep school in Jamaica and served as a vice president and most recently the chaplain at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he was until last year. Last year, Dziak announced that he would leave Loyola to take a role as the chaplain at Le Moyne College in upstate New York. But in September 2020 he was removed from his post at Le Moyne pending an investigation after media inquiries were made about the assault allegations, according to The Heights.
Loyola University officials have said they received no complaints of sexual misconduct against Dziak during his 14 years there, although there were accusations that he lashed out at employees and made students uncomfortable on overseas trips, according to the New Orleans paper.
Dziak is now at the Campion Center, a Jesuit retreat in Weston. The director of the Campion Center did not respond to a request for comment.
The USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, which overseas Jesuit ministries in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, did not respond to a request for comment.
Dziak launched JVI, or Jesuit Volunteers International, which sent college graduates on two-year service trips to Belize, Peru, Tanzania, and Nepal to work as educators and social workers in 1984. At BC, he also directed the Ignacio Volunteers program, which sent students on international missions.
According to students and past mission volunteers, Dziak often targeted handsome young men, developed mentor relationships with them, then put pressure on them to socialize or miss out on these popular trips if they rebuffed him. On the trips, often in remote locations, students were often dependent on Dziak for housing and food stipends, according to news reports.
BC students who worked with Dziak said the priest encouraged the attendees to change their clothes in front of one another during the trip, according to The Heights.
Dziak also often confided in students about his own problems with Jesuit leadership, called them frequently, and would get upset if they tried to draw boundaries on the relationship, according to The Heights.
In 1998, a graduate student who worked with the Ignacio Volunteers collected letters and e-mails from BC students, staff, and faculty about “mental abuse from Dziak’s behavior,” according to the The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.
BC religious psychology professor John McDargh was among those who submitted a letter during the 1998 academic year after hearing concerns from students, the newspaper reported. McDargh wrote to religious leaders that although there were no sexual misconduct allegations against Dziak it would be “highly irresponsible” of them to allow Dziak to “function pastorally or professionally with young adults or college-age students.”
The letters were sent to the regional head of the Jesuits and BC administrators, according to the New Orleans paper.
At BC, the accusations against Dziak and the seeming inaction by religious leaders has left students frustrated and disappointed.
“There’s no accountability, no justice,” said Hollie Watts, 22, a graduating senior at BC. “It’s hurtful, how the school can look the other way.”