Former priest at St. John’s Jesuit High School placed on sexual abuse list

Toledo Blade [Toledo OH]

October 31, 2023

By Sarah Readdean

A deceased priest who served at St. John’s Jesuit High School in the 1990s and early 2000s was placed on a list of established allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

An allegation was made in 2022 against the Rev. Francis Canfield, who died in May, by a former student of the Toledo school, according to an email sent to an alumnus from the school’s president Mark Swentkofske.

Mr. Canfield’s name was added Monday to the list of Midwest Jesuits with an established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus.

St. John’s released a media statement detailing the investigation and the school’s safety process, but deferred additional questions to the province’s communications office.

The Diocese of Toledo said in a statement that “after learning of the allegation in 2022, the Diocese reported the matter to the Lucas County Prosecutor, and also to the Midwest Jesuit Province.”

Michael McGrath, a spokesman for the Midwest Province, said that when an allegation is made, the accused Jesuit is immediately removed temporarily from public ministry and authorities in the jurisdiction where the allegation took place are notified. The school’s statement says no criminal charges arose.

After a legal investigation is completed, the province conducts its own investigation. It then determines whether the allegation is “established,” or credible, meaning it’s based on a “reasonable certainty” that the abuse occurred, resulting in the Jesuit’s permanent removal from public ministry, according to the province’s website.

The investigation of Mr. Canfield began prior to the priest’s death, Mr. McGrath said.

“All Catholic institutions now have very robust protocols in place for exactly this purpose: to keep children and adults safe,” Mr. McGrath said in a phone call. “As far as the Midwest Province, there has not been a single allegation of misconduct that occurred after 2003.”

Family members of Mr. Canfield could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Canfield served as a teacher and counselor at St. John’s between 1990 and 2005. Before serving in Toledo, he served at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in Detroit and in 2006 was assigned to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. The abuse allegedly occurred during the 1999-2000 school year, according to the statement. The public list shows there’s a single allegation against Mr. Canfield.

Mr. Swentkofske wrote in his email that St. John’s is “committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment.” All employees who work directly with the students undergo FBI and BCI background checks, as well as safe environment training mandated by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.

“We want to assure you that we maintain the highest standards of safety for our students and employees,” the president wrote. “We have in place a vigorously enforced zero-tolerance policy regarding inappropriate, physical, sexual, or emotionally abusive interaction between our students, faculty, coaches, and staff.”

There are two Jesuit priests serving at St. John’s, according to the school’s online staff directory.

The Society of Jesus is a religious order in the Catholic Church that ordains men as priests and brothers. Jesuit priests differ from diocesan priests in that they are under the authority of a local superior and provincial, not a diocesan bishop.

The Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus encompasses Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

“St. John Jesuit High School is neither sponsored nor governed by the Diocese of Toledo,” the diocese said, and Mr. Canfield did not serve in a diocesan assignment.

“Rev. Canfield was an extern priest; accordingly, although he resided for a time in the territory of the Diocese of Toledo, he served in a ministry sponsored by his religious community, and therefore, was not immediately subject to the supervision or jurisdiction of the Bishop of Toledo,” the statement reads.

Claudia Vercellotti, a local leader with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said this case leaves more questions than answers.

“Have you ever met somebody that just likes potato chips but only has one? No. So this notion that this priest … abused one person in 15 years is really not very believable,” Ms. Vercellotti said. “In five decades [of ministering at schools], we’ve got one victim. That doesn’t sound credible. It just sounds like there’s more to this story.”

She added that she’s grateful to the victim who came forward with the allegation.

“It’s proof positive that you can heal, you can get help, and it is never too late to speak up,” she said.

To report any sexual abuse of a minor by a Jesuit or province employee, individuals may call the Midwest Jesuits’ office of safe environment at 773- 975-6363.

To report any sexual abuse of a minor by diocesan personnel, individuals may call the Diocese of Toledo’s victim assistance coordinator at 419-244- 6711, ext. 4880.