Church Settles Abuse Claims

By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner [Alaska]
March 29, 2007

The head of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, said Wednesday that an out-of-court agreement has been reached in two civil suits filed against a retired 83-year-old Jesuit priest who served in Alaska from the early 1960s until 1976.

The Rev. John D. Whitney said four people from Western Alaska — two men and two women — will share in a $1.96 million agreement plus therapists fees once paperwork is completed in their suit against the Rev. James E. Jacobson.

Two men sued Jacobson for child support, and two women, one the mother of one of the men, accused him of rape.

Defendants in the cases include Jacobson, the Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska and the Society of Jesus in Oregon and Alaska, the latter two sharing in the settlement costs.

In a public statement also issued Wednesday, Whitney said he is hopeful that the agreement is the beginning of a process of reconciliation.

"We know that such a settlement cannot fully repair all that has been lost by this profound violation of trust," the statement read. "The Society of Jesus prays and works for the healing of all those who have been harmed, and for all the members of the Church and community who have been disheartened by these and other revelations."

The plaintiffs' Anchorage attorney, Chris Cooke, would not disclose whether a settlement was reached or the amount of the settlement.

"We've notified the court that it is in the process of being settled, but the formal dismissal papers have not been submitted yet," Cooke said.

The Fairbanks Catholic Diocese also declined to discuss the subject in detail.

"As to terms of any negotiated settlement, we can't comment on that until the process is concluded," said Robert Hannon, assistant to Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler.

"We agree with the Jesuits about the human costs involved," Hannon said. "We recognize there are human lives and human hearts involved in this and we feel deeply for any victim of abuse."

A CNN news program featured Jacobson Tuesday night in which excerpts taken from a video-taped deposition of him were aired. In it Jacobson acknowledges he is the father of two more children which he has never supported or cared for. He also admits to numerous sexual encounters with seven women in rural communities but denies forcing non-consenual sex. He also admits to paying for prostitutes using church and Jesuit money.

One of the Alaska men Jacobson fathered — Don Slats, proven through DNA testing — told of being called "little preacher" and being the butt of cruel jokes during his growing up years.

"I felt like an outcast," he said in the CNN report

Jacobson, who spent the last 25 years of his priesthood ministering to inmates at Oregon penitentiaries, is now restricted to the Regis Jesuit Community on the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane, Wash. He cannot leave unless accompanied by a Jesuit or a family member.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546 or


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