Local Diocese Startled by Suit

By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
October 16, 2005

Officials with the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese were surprised by the "new twist" in the most recent civil suit filed against a priest, diocese spokeswoman Ronnie Rosenberg said.

The suit claims the Rev. James E. Jacobson, a Jesuit priest who served more than a decade in western Alaska, sexually assaulted two women, impregnated them and left two sons behind.

Rosenberg said the latest filing came as a surprise because it differs from the more than 80 suits filed so far against priests who served in diocese. Most of those claims allege child sexual abuse.

While diocese officials were surprised, the Rev. John Whitney, provincial of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, said he was recently made aware that Jacobson is the father of the two male complainants.

"We willingly submitted to the (DNA) testing," Whitney said.

DNA test results attached to the complaint show a 99.5 percent probability that John A. Doe and a 99.95 percent probability that John B. Doe are Jacobson's children.

But, Whitney said, the lawsuit marks the first time he has heard anything about sexual assault. Whitney said he finds both the charges and the fact Jacobson violated his priestly vow of chastity upsetting.

"It's a very tough thing," Whitney said. "I continue to want to find a healing path. I am very sorry it has come to this. I am sorry for the pain."

More than 80 complaints have been filed against the Fairbanks diocese as well as the Jesuits in the last few years, alleging sexual abuse of minors by priests and a brother affiliated with the diocese. The latest lawsuit was filed Thursday in Bethel Superior Court by three plaintiffs listed as John A. Doe, John B. Doe and Jane B. Doe.

The two men claim to be Jacobson's son. Jane B. Doe, the mother of John B. Doe, said in the suit that she was sexually assaulted by Jacobson, which resulted in the birth of her son.

The lawsuit claims the now-deceased mother of John A. Doe was sexually assaulted by Jacobson in December 1965, in the priest's quarters in a Yupik village. As a result, she became pregnant and gave birth to John A. Doe in August 1966.

Jane B. Doe, a married woman at the time, claims she was sexually assaulted by Jacobson in the rectory of the village church. She gave birth in November 1975.

The lawsuit asserts that the Fairbanks diocese and the Jesuits were negligent in supervising Jacobson and had knowledge of his "inappropriate and illegal behavior." The lawsuit also claims the diocese and the Jesuits destroyed evidence relating to Jacobson's time in the state.

Rosenberg said the diocese has a small file on Jacobson but doesn't have any records of Jacobson's performance while he served in Alaska.

"We don't have anything on anybody of that vintage, but I will continue to look," she said. "I am sure files have been weeded out. I don't know any place that keeps personnel files from the 1960s and 1970s."

The two John Does are asking for a court ruling based on the DNA tests that prove Jacobson is their biological father. They also seek family and health information about Jacobson, payment for the DNA testing, damages for past non-support and damages for emotional distress.

Jane B. Doe is asking for damages due to the sexual assault, the resulting pregnancy, the harm to her marriage and other losses as well as punitive damages.

Jacobson began his ministry in Alaska in 1963, serving until 1966 in the villages of Tununak, Nightmute and Chefornak. A yearlong break was followed by three years teaching at Copper Valley School. From 1971 through 1976, he served in Hooper Bay, Chevak, Scammon Bay and Cape Romanzof.

Following another break and a year's sabbatical in San Francisco, Jacobson became chaplain in residence at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, a position he held for more than 25 years before retiring earlier this year.

Jacobson received both the Salvation Army's National Award for Chaplain of the Year and the American Catholic Correctional Chaplain Association's Maximillan Kolbe Award in 2003.

Jacobson, now in his early 80s, resides at the Regis House, an assisted living community for clergy in Spokane, Wash., where he helps care for other men not physically capable of helping themselves. Whitney said Jacobson is under restriction and is not doing priestly ministry outside the care facility.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.