Abuse Cases Put Focus on Jesuits

By Janet I. Tu
The Seattle Times
October 16, 2006

For one victim, compensation came in the form of checks hand-delivered from the highest-ranking Jesuit in the Pacific Northwest.

John McKinley, of Olympia, had contacted church officials about two years ago, saying he had been abused as a boy by a since-deceased Jesuit priest. Over the next months, he talked with the Very Rev. John Whitney.

Whitney gave him an unsolicited check for about $100,000. About a year later, they signed a settlement for another $100,000.

With an attorney and victim's advocate, Elsie Boudreau, who accused a Jesuit priest of abuse decades ago, spoke at Seattle U.
Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

At first, McKinley, 69, saw it as a gesture from a "nice guy" he'd come to regard as a friend. But McKinley wonders now if the checks were "gag money" and fair compensation for the abuse he says he suffered at the hands of the Rev. Michael Toulouse, a priest who had worked in Spokane and at Seattle University, and a nun.

"I was wronged pretty bad," he said.

Whitney says he's trying to do the right thing in meeting personally with victims who request it and disclosing offenders' names as they come up.

"I haven't tried to hide anything," said Whitney, provincial superior of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. "I think the worst thing we can do as Jesuits is to say we have never sinned. I'm not trying to say that at all."

Since 2002, when the Roman Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal broke nationwide, the spotlight has mainly been on parish priests in the country's 195 dioceses. In Washington, in part because of several high-profile cases involving Jesuits who worked at Seattle University and Gonzaga University in Spokane, attention is now focused on the Jesuits, considered the single largest of the Catholic Church's religious orders.

And as more victims come forward, many of the same concerns and criticisms that were raised about how dioceses have handled sex-abuse cases are now being raised about the Jesuits.

John Manly, a victims' attorney, says there's a disconnect between Whitney's words and the actions of lawyers defending the Jesuits. "They have the right to do whatever they want in a court of law," Manly says. "The problem is you can't have your cake and eat it too. [Whitney] will talk nicely to you. But then he'll leave the room and the knives come out."

Whitney says provincial leaders "always look for a pastoral solution." But if people turn to the courts, "we do everything within the ordinary ethics and course of the law."

To be sure, the Jesuits are not the only order receiving scrutiny. Allegations also have been leveled against orders such as the Christian Brothers, Salesians and Marianists.

Together, religious orders, which operate separately from the dioceses, claim about 13,500 priests — slightly less than half the number of diocesan priests.

According to a national study, priests in religious orders have had a lower percentage of child sex-abuse allegations than diocesan priests: about 2.7 percent between 1950 and 2002, compared with 3 to 6 percent of diocesan priests.

Like dioceses, orders are beholden to a 2002 policy passed by U.S. bishops on how to prevent and handle such cases. But it's up to each order to figure out how to implement the policy. Within the Jesuit order, each province forms its own plan and keeps its own statistics.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), would like to see a "one-stop shop" where people can find a comprehensive listing of names of everyone credibly accused within an order.

"The bottom line is this: The Jesuits can make it hard or easy for people to find out who molested. They're choosing to make it hard."

Gonzaga, Seattle U.

John Leary, former Gonzaga University president

The Society of Jesus — the Jesuits — was founded some 450 years ago by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Today there are some 19,000 Jesuits worldwide and about 3,000 nationwide. They are perhaps best known for their far-flung mission work, intellectual rigor and prestigious schools, including Georgetown University and Boston College. In Washington, along with Seattle U. and Gonzaga, they also run high schools including Seattle Preparatory School.

The order is divided into provinces, with the head of each — the provincial superior — answering to the superior general in Rome, who answers to the pope.

In the Oregon Province, which has about 250 Jesuits in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, the number of abuse suits has been climbing.

About 25 Jesuits in the province have been credibly accused of abuse going back to the 1930s, Whitney said. Since 2002, the province has spent about $8.5 million to settle some 40 claims, and about 80 claims are pending.

In Washington, Whitney disclosed earlier that former Gonzaga University President John Leary, who died in 1993, had abused boys in the 1960s.

There also have been allegations against two deceased Seattle U. professors: Toulouse and the Rev. Englebert Axer. Last week, a Seattle U. official said the school would look into a written communication it received recently from a former student saying that an interaction decades ago with a now-deceased Jesuit faculty member made him uncomfortable.

Also last week, the Rev. Tony Harris resigned his vice presidency at Seattle U. after allegations resurfaced that he had sent pornographic greeting cards to a 25-year-old Jesuit seminarian years ago. That case had settled in 2000 with no admission of guilt, and Harris' record at Seattle U. has been spotless, school officials said.

In addition, at least a dozen women have said they were sexually abused as girls at a former Jesuit-run Indian boarding school on the Colville Indian Reservation, according to the women's attorney.

Most of the cases in the Oregon Province, though, are in Alaska, where there are at least 100 victims, many of them Native Alaskans.

For years, the Jesuits had sent priests to serve remote Alaskan villages, and some have theorized that Alaska was where Jesuit leaders sent troubled priests — a theory Whitney vehemently denies.

Elsie Boudreau, 38, of Anchorage, was one of several Native Alaskans who accused the Rev. James Poole of raping or molesting them decades ago. Had Jesuit leaders disclosed the names of abusers in the past, she said, healing could have begun sooner and "we would not be standing in silence believing we are the only ones."

Handling of allegations

In the Oregon Province, allegations typically are taken by a social worker who serves as a victims' assistance coordinator. Allegations that identify Jesuits by name are reported both to the police and to the provincial, and the accused is placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, Whitney said. If the accusation is deemed credible, the priest is permanently removed from ministry. If it's a criminal matter and the statute of limitations hasn't expired, police get involved.

Jesuits usually live together in small communities, pooling their salaries for living expenses, with the surplus typically going to the province. Whitney said it's this surplus, plus money from a rainy-day fund, that has been used to settle cases; he doesn't want to use donor funds, a main source of income for the province.

Victims' advocates have called for leaders of the Oregon Province to disclose the names of all those credibly accused within the province.

Whitney says the province has "tried to be as forthcoming as possible," disclosing individual names as allegations come in. He adds that many of the names have also appeared in news reports.

But Mike Shaffer, a plaintiffs' attorney, said the province has made it difficult to find out who the abusers are and how they've been dealt with, and hasn't produced some court-ordered records.

Defense lawyers dispute that, saying in court filings that despite the time it takes to dig through thousands of documents to find the relevant ones, they have produced the records. Manly, the plaintiffs' attorney, wonders if Whitney won't make all names readily available all at once because "he's concerned more victims will come forward."

Whitney says that's untrue and that he urges people to come forward, whether they pursue lawsuits or not.

He also notes that he has not sought confidentiality agreements from victims, except at their request, and hasn't enforced those put into place by his predecessors.

He and his small staff simply haven't had time to release a full list, he said. "A higher priority for me is being there pastorally for people who come forward."


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