The Heights - Boston College [Chestnut Hill MA]
April 26, 2021
By Julia Kiersznowski, Victor Stefanescu, Amy Palmer and Megan Kelly
Members of the Boston College community sent complaints beginning in the 1997-98 academic year to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., accusing Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., a Jesuit at BC from 1990 to 1998, of inappropriate conduct with students.
Dziak—who went on to work at Jesuit schools in Jamaica, New Orleans, and New York—was accused last week of raping a postgraduate volunteer in Belize in 2004, according to nola.com.
In one instance, members of the chaplaincy—which is now Campus Ministry—submitted a letter to Leahy during the 1997-98 academic year containing student complaints about Dziak’s troublesome behavior.
In the spring of 1998, Dziak announced he would be leaving the University for a position at a school in Jamaica.
Matt Stautberg, BC ’99, said he met with Leahy in the summer of 1998, while Dziak was on his way out of BC, to discuss the Ignacio Volunteers program, which Dziak had been directing since 1991. During this meeting, Stautberg said he also brought up Dziak’s troubling behavior.
“At that point I was more focused on continuing the program and finding us a new staff person to help,” Stautberg said. “But I did express that [Dziak] was inappropriate. Childlike stuff, where he wouldn’t talk to chaplaincy … My memory was that [Leahy] was very thoughtful and listened and [was] understanding.”
Stautberg also wrote a separate letter—of which he sent Leahy a copy—in the fall of that year to Rev. Robert Levens, S.J., the provincial, or leader, of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus at the time. In the letter, which was obtained by The Heights, Stautberg describes how Dziak emotionally abused him and expressed that he did not think Dziak should continue working with young people.
Beth Eilers, BC ’97 and BCSOE ’99, also wrote a letter that was obtained by The Heights to Levens on March 18, 1999, where she emphasized Dziak’s pattern of emotional abuse. Leahy was copied on Eilers’ letter as well.
Tim Ballard, a DePaul University graduate and a volunteer who served from 2004 to 2006 through Jesuit Volunteers International (JVI)—an organization launched by Dziak—alleged that Dziak raped him four times during a trip to Belize. Three of those times, the two had been drinking together, Ballard said, and Ballard alleges that he was drugged all four times.
BC has not made any public statement regarding allegations against Dziak or whether Leahy read the letters sent to him, but directed The Heights to the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, which was established in 2014 to combine the New England and New York provinces, and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Dziak and Levens could not be reached for comment.
Dziak was also accused of engaging in inappropriate conduct toward students while at Loyola University New Orleans.
In 2011, when Dziak was director of the Jesuit Center at Loyola, Katrina Weschler, a member of the center, filed a complaint to human resources about Dziak based on student accounts of his behavior, according to nola.com. Dziak stayed at Loyola another nine years, officially leaving in 2020.
Though Dziak took over Ignacio Volunteers at BC in the 1990s, this was not his first time directing a volunteer service program. Dziak launched JVI through Georgetown University in 1984, which placed college graduates into international service experiences, according to Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
Dennis Heaphy, an early volunteer at JVI, told nola.com that Dziak tried to get the two to watch movies and drink beer together, and the priest was angry when the invitations were denied. Dziak also kissed Heaphy on the head and said “I love you” while the two were traveling to Belize, Heaphy said.
Heaphy’s time in Belize was cut short by a diving accident that left him paralyzed, according to nola.com. Decades removed from the trip, Heaphy said he still remembers Dziak’s actions.
“Ted used the classic steps of a pathological abuser,” Heaphy said to nola.com.
Jeffrey Robinson, BC ’00, attended a trip to Belize with Dziak through BC’s Ignacio Volunteers program. Robinson said that Dziak encouraged the attendees to change their clothes in front of one another during the trip.
“He came into the room and was visibly upset or emotionally upset, and what he said to us was ‘This group doesn’t seem to be open with one another,’” Robinson said. “‘The group that I took here last time got naked around each other much more frequently. They were a lot more open with their nudity, you know, and I don’t feel that this group has achieved that level of comfort yet.’”
Jose Tamayo, BC ’97, said he volunteered with Ignacio Volunteers in Jamaica his senior year and in Belize the following winter as a group leader. Tamayo said that during the first trip he had a friendly and light relationship with Dziak, but noticed that the graduate group leaders constantly seemed exhausted.
“It was like visible stress, visible exhaustion,” he said. “Physically run down. Like worn out, wrung out.”
Tamayo said he didn’t understand the leaders’ frustration until he became a graduate leader in Belize the following year and experienced emotional abuse at the hands of Dziak.
“Immediately, he turned very hostile,” Tamayo said. “He never told you what you needed to do, or what there was to do. And anything you did was wrong. It was like a trap every time.”
Dziak would keep group leaders awake until the late hours of the night, and also wake them up hours before the other volunteers, Tamayo said.
“I mean, I think I got three hours of sleep a night for the length of the trip,” he said. “And of course that messes with you and it gets very edgy. It’s like a torture.”
A former BC chaplain who worked alongside Dziak on service programs, who was granted anonymity out of fear of retaliation from BC, said they heard things about Dziak’s misconduct even before they came to BC in the early 1990s.
“I had friends who had worked in the Jesuit Volunteers International—there was, like, a whole group in Boston of all these former Jesuit volunteers,” the chaplain said. “So, through that network, I had heard a few things about Fr. Dziak, concerns, before I got to BC.”
Through their work on service programs at BC, the chaplain said they became close to students who said that Dziak had traumatized them. The chaplain also said student leaders would often share stories about how the priest made students uncomfortable.
Matt Stautberg joined Ignacio Volunteers as a freshman in 1995. Throughout his time with the program, Stautberg said that Dziak repeatedly made it clear he wanted to be close friends with him. When Stautberg didn’t reciprocate these feelings, he said, Dziak grew frustrated.
“He said things and wrote things and left voicemails … telling me that I was wrong because I wouldn’t be his friend and what was wrong with me and questioning if I was really serious, really making me doubt myself,” Stautberg told The Heights.
Stautberg said Dziak would open up to him about problems he was having with Levens, the provincial at the time, as well as with BC. He also said Dziak told Stautberg that he was leaving BC before the news of his departure became public.
While in the process of leaving BC, Dziak had Stautberg act as the middleman in discussions between the University and himself regarding the future of Ignacio Volunteers.
“So, in my desire to keep the program going, I continued to have a lot of conversations with him and others in the University administration,” Stautberg said. “He was using me a bit as a pawn and a go-between, and the inappropriate way of him sharing and seeking friendship from me got much worse, and I really shut him down, which he reacted to pretty strongly.”
Dziak left his position at BC in June of 1998 and a few months later, moved to Kingston, Jamaica, where he served as president of St. George’s College, an all-boys Jesuit Catholic high school.
Dziak sent a letter to Stautberg on Sept. 10, 1998, a copy of which was obtained by The Heights, in which he expressed his disappointment at the decline of their relationship. Stautberg then wrote his initial letter to Levens in the fall of 1998, of which he also sent a copy to Leahy.
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Heights, he discussed Dziak’s emotional abuse and gave examples of his problematic behavior. He also enclosed a copy of the letter Dziak sent him.
Stautberg wrote about the exhaustion that came from acting as a middleman between Dziak and the University, and how Dziak continued to manipulate him. He also explained how he was left feeling anxious after receiving many phone calls and messages from Dziak.
Dziak’s behavior, he wrote, was manipulative and inappropriate, and needed to be brought to Levens’ attention before Dziak began work in Jamaica, where such conduct could continue.
Stautberg told The Heights that he is disappointed his effort to speak up didn’t stop Dziak from causing more harm.
“I spoke up 23 years ago, other people did too, because we saw somebody who was quite frankly ill and harming people,” Stautberg said. “We spoke up in an effort so that others wouldn’t be harmed, and it’s really sad that he continued to hurt people in a very predictable pattern.”
Beth Eilers went on the same trip to Jamaica as Tamayo, led by Dziak through Ignacio Volunteers, during her senior year at BC. The following year, she also went with Dziak to Belize over Winter Break as a postgraduate student staff member.
After she returned from the Belize trip, Eilers said, BC asked her later that year if she wanted to finish her graduate degree—which she had started in the fall of 1998 at the Art Institute of Chicago—at BC to help transition Ignacio Volunteers alongside Rev. John Savard, S.J.
Eilers said that she helped run Ignacio Volunteers “in the aftermath of Ted.” Once she realized the extent of the trauma Dziak had inflicted on students, someone needed to alert officials to his behavior, Eilers said.
Along with other members of the Ignacio Volunteers program, Eilers collected letters from students, faculty, and staff detailing Dziak’s misconduct. One of these letters came from John McDargh, an associate professor in the department of theology.
McDargh told The Heights that the first time he was made aware of Dziak’s troubling behavior was when the girlfriend of one of his students approached him and told him she was concerned about how her boyfriend’s relationship with Dziak was affecting him emotionally.
“[Dziak] would call her boyfriend on a Friday afternoon and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out to a movie together,’ or, ‘I’d love to grab dinner with you,’” McDargh said. “And then if her boyfriend would say, ‘Gosh Father, I’d really love to do that with you but my girlfriend and I have plans tonight,’ … Dziak would act in a very hurt or petulant way. [He would say], ‘Well, you know, I am writing that letter of recommendation for you, and I had really looked forward to spending some time together.’”
After hearing this initial concern, McDargh began asking other students about their experiences with Dziak.
“While on one hand they would admire him for this organization he created called Ignacio Volunteers, they also began to talk about how he really wanted to get up close and personal, and particularly to, the pattern was, to attractive young men—attractive male undergraduates,” McDargh said.
McDargh said that after Dziak left for St. George’s, Eilers and others notified McDargh that they were collecting complaints about Dziak and asked if he had heard of any reports of Dziak’s problematic behavior. McDargh told them that he had, and agreed to write a letter detailing his observations.
In his letter, which was obtained by The Heights, he expressed concern about what he described as Dziak’s “psychosexual underdevelopment.”
“It appears to me that Fr. Dziak’s [pattern of behavior] has been to be emotionally seductive to the degree that the students he favors with his attention and care begin to feel responsible somehow for his emotional well-being,” he wrote in the letter. “This is a very troubling violation of the boundaries that typically obtain between adult mentors and young adults in this position.”
McDargh stressed that action must be taken to prevent further abuses. Unless Dziak received substantial therapy and adjusted his behavior, he should not be placed in a mentor position where further emotional coercion could occur, McDargh wrote.
“If my formulation is accurate and corroborated by reports from students and other staff, it would be highly irresponsible for his religious superiors to permit him to function pastorally or professionally with young adults or college age students,” McDargh wrote. “To do so, I am afraid, sooner or [later] risks the possibility of scandal and legal action.”
McDargh’s concerns regarding Dziak’s behavior, along with the reports of other students, faculty, and staff, were sent to Levens—who, as provincial at the time, was in charge of Dziak’s placement—in the 1998-99 academic year.
In a letter to Levens on Nov. 22, 1998, Eilers wrote about her experience with Dziak and her concerns about his new position at St. George’s, and urged that Dziak return to the United States and accept counseling.
The all-boys Jesuit Catholic high school has a mission of enabling its students to become men of competence, conscience, and compassion, according to the St. George’s website. Dziak served as the president of the school, which is located in Kingston, Jamaica.
“He placed himself in a position where he was supposed to be a mentor, leader, and role model,” Eilers wrote. “Ted failed in each of these roles. Instead of a mentor, he confused his purpose and sought friendship. When there was no reciprocation, he grew angry. Instead of a leader, he abused the trust of his volunteers and alienated himself from his peers. In all aspects, instead of a role model, he became a role player. He was a dejected friend, a misunderstood altruist. By his own actions, Ted became a foil for the very position he created.”
After Eilers returned to Jamaica for a volunteer trip through Ignacio Volunteers in March of 1999, she said it became very clear that Dziak was still able to stay in contact with BC students through the program. She wrote a second letter to Levens on March 18, 1999, which Leahy was also copied on.
“What I began to discover while I was in Jamaica was that he is still in a position of power and his role is not being limited to administrative duties,” she wrote. “I feel that this is a disservice to the people he was there to serve and to himself because I feel it perpetuates his historical pattern of destruction.”
Eilers told The Heights she contacted Rev. Jim Webb, S.J., who was the regional superior of the Society for Guyana-Jamaica—where Dziak was placed after officially leaving BC in January of 1999—to express that Dziak should not be working with young students. Dziak first served in an administrative position before becoming president of the school.
Eilers wrote in her letter to Levens that the complaints submitted to him the previous fall were only the tip of the iceberg.
“Father Levens, the letters you received last fall were only a small sample from a much larger pool of volunteers, all with similar stories and similar concerns,” she wrote.
The complaints about Dziak were not the only allegations against a Jesuit priest to land on the provincial’s desk during his tenure.
Five years after Levens being appointed provincial in 1997, The Boston Globe launched the Archdiocese of Boston into the national spotlight after it published the results of an investigation into years of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area.
Two Jesuit priests—Rev. Stephen Dawber, S.J., and James Talbot—were suspended by Boston College High School as a result of this investigation in 2002 for molesting students while stationed at the school two decades prior. BC High fell under Levens’ jurisdiction as provincial in 2002.
Between his time at St. George’s and Loyola, Dziak went to Punta Gorda, Belize to serve on a JVI project in October of 2004, Ballard said. Ballard was sent to Punta Gorda through JVI in July of that year to serve as director of religious education.
Ballard said that while he was in Belize, he became very dependent upon Dziak.
“I had no other choice,” Ballard said. “I was an American in a foreign land, and I [had] a two year commitment, and I wanted to keep that commitment no matter what.”
It was on this trip that Dziak allegedly raped Ballard on four separate occasions.
The first alleged rape, Ballard said, occured when the two took an overnight trip to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. The two went to an outdoor restaurant where Dziak kept “feeding” Ballard alcoholic beverages. Ballard said that he later woke up in a dark hotel room.
“And that’s when it’s almost like time stood still, where I knew I had been drugged, because it was like in slow motion, and I couldn’t fight,” Ballard said.
The following two alleged rapes were similar, according to Ballard, but the last alleged rape was different. Ballard said that they were drinking non-alcoholic beverages and that he again thought Dziak had drugged him.
Ballard said he has no doubt that Dziak had drugged him during all four of the alleged assaults, and only realized this fact during the fourth and final alleged rape, as they had not consumed alcohol that night.
“And really through that incident is how I kind of put it all together, of [how] he had slipped me something every single time,” Ballard said.
Dziak joined Loyola in 2006 as the university’s vice president for mission and identity and the director of the university’s Jesuit Center, according to nola.com. There, Dziak allegedly displayed behavior consistent with the alleged sexual assaults on mission trips in Belize and at BC, Ballard’s attorneys told nola.com.
Weschler, the member at the Jesuit Center, also collected accounts from students who attended a Belize summer camp with Dziak in 2010.
Based on the accounts, Weschler filed a complaint with Loyola in 2011, she said in an email to The Heights. In a statement to nola.com, Loyola acknowledged that “action was taken,” after they received the complaint, but after that, no further evidence of allegations toward Dziak exist.
Thirteen years after his arrival, Dziak would not return to Loyola following his year-long sabbatical in 2019, according to The Maroon. Dziak left Loyola in May of 2020 to serve as chaplain at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., according to nola.com.
Loyola officials told nola.com that Dziak left the university voluntarily. The president of Loyola, Tania Tetlow, wrote in a statement to students on April 18 that said the university only recently became aware of Ballard’s allegations and is unaware of any other allegations against Dziak during his time at Loyola, according to The Maroon.
Dziak only spent a few weeks at Le Moyne College before the current provincial of the USA East Province, Rev. Joseph O’Keefe, S.J., removed him in September of 2020 pending an investigation. The removal occurred one day after Le Moyne received a media inquiry into Ballard’s accusations, Joe Della Posta, director of communications and public affairs at Le Moyne, said in a statement to The Heights.
Since his removal from Le Moyne, Dziak has resided at the Campion Center, according to nola.com The center provides Jesuits with medical, nursing, and rehabilitative care, according to its website. It is located in Weston, Mass., which is a 20-minute drive from BC.
The East Province did not respond to calls regarding the allegations.
Ballard said sharing his story publicly is a matter of safety and that time is of the essence, as Dziak is still at the Campion Center.
“I have the truth, 100 percent of the truth, within me that I want to share with everyone,” Ballard said. “And I have no fear whatsoever of sharing whatever details people need to hear to know how very, very dangerous this guy is and how he’s been dangerous for about five decades, if not longer.”
Ballard said Leahy and Levens acted cowardly because they stayed silent on the complaints they received.
“The cowardice of [Leahy] and the cowardice of Levens is beyond anything I’ve ever encountered in my entire life,” Ballard said.
Eilers said she is frustrated by the province and BC’s lack of action after complaints were already filed, as this inaction allowed Dziak to abuse more students.
“Something that’s important to note is that many people filed complaints, and knew he shouldn’t be working with young people,” she said. “And yet … that continued to be dismissed. And, you know, worse happened.”
Eilers said she, along with a few others, recently wrote a letter to Leahy and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley requesting that they share the nola.com article with the BC community by April 27, as well as let them know by April 30 what protocols are in place to protect young people at BC from opportunistic predators.
“His footprint is so wide,” she said. “Think about it, since 1982 when Dennis Heaphy had his accident to now—that’s close to 40 years. Think of how many trips he’s taken, how many places he’s gone, how many people he’s interacted with. My hope is that this becomes a landmark international case for survivors.”
Robinson said he didn’t think much of Dziak’s conduct on the Belize trip, only later realizing Dziak crossed a line. Now, Robinson’s perception of Dziak is complicated, he said. Though the priest provided him with opportunities to travel that changed his life, he questions the boundaries that Dziak pushed with students.
“As I grow older, my takeaway is that he failed to maintain appropriate boundaries as a fiduciary, as a Jesuit priest in charge of young people,” Robinson said. “I think he was looking for affection, and power in some ways, over people that were well outside of his peer group and it’s, you know, looking back, it’s wholly inappropriate.”
McDargh told The Heights he was surprised that Dziak’s behavior didn’t affect his future ability to work with youth.
“What is distressing to me is that Father Dziak’s behavior was so well reported and recorded here at BC, and yet, that seemed not to have followed him,” he said.
Eilers said looking back more than 20 years later, especially in light of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church that followed, she wonders what would have happened if she handled the complaints differently.
“[In] hindsight, knowing that Spotlight was going on down the road … I would have just handed that all over there,” Eilers said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Erin Shannon contributed to reporting.