" A Breakdown in Communication"

California Catholic Daily
December 26, 2007

Society of Jesus agrees to pay $1.6 million to family of priest who killed himself after alleged sexual abuse by fellow Jesuit

Earlier this month, the California Province of the Society of Jesus settled out of court with the family of Jesuit Fr. James Chevedden who, says his family, committed suicide when the Jesuits failed to protect him from sexual abuse.

Chevedden, said a Dec. 14 press release from the California Province, had been diagnosed several years ago with paranoid schizophrenia. According to the Dec. 13 San Jose Mercury News, Chevedden eventually was placed by his order at its Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. The center houses retired and infirm Jesuits.

Chevedden made four attempts to commit suicide between 1994 and 2005, said the California Province. After one of those attempts in 1998 the priest jumped off a scaffolding, fracturing his feet Chevedden was placed in the center's infirmary. There, according to his family, Jesuit Br. Charles Connor (now 86), who pushed Chevedden in his wheel chair, groped the injured man's genitals. In 2002, Connor and another Jesuit were convicted of molesting mentally retarded dishwashers at the center.

The Cheveddens say that if their brother had known of Connor's history of molestation, he could have avoided him. Accusations against Connor first surfaced in 1995. Though Connor had admitted to molesting a mentally retarded dishwasher, the Jesuit provincial made no report to the police or to the man's legal guardian. The Jesuits claimed to have dealt with the situation, and Connor remained at the retreat center until 2000, when detectives received reports of more abuse by Connor. Only then did the Jesuit leadership, then under the direction of Fr. Thomas Smolich, transfer Connor -- to a Jesuit boys' high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory, in San Jose. No one at Bellarmine was told of the accusations against Connor, Smolich told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, on account of "a breakdown in communication."

When Connor returned to the retreat center in 2002, Chevedden told his superiors of Connor's alleged molestation of him and asked several times to be transferred. The superiors, however, said they could not substantiate Chevedden's accusations. On May 19, 2004, his 56th birthday, Chevedden committed suicide, jumping from the sixth story of a San Jose garage. His family claimed the suicide was on account of the failure of the Jesuits to separate their brother from Connor. The family filed a wrongful-death suit against the province.

The Jesuit province says that, though it settled for $1.6 million "to bring closure for the Chevedden family," the pre-trial agreement stipulates that the province admits no liability. The province's statement says that the Cheveddens' subsequent statements to the press repeat "an unsubstantiated allegation" made by Fr. Chevedden and are "misleading."

"Notably, Fr. Chevedden's three previous attempts at suicide were made before the alleged incident even took place," said the province. "Fr. Chevedden eventually told his Provincial that he was 'at peace' with his fellow Jesuits. It is also worth noting that Fr. Chevedden was not confined to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, but was able to and did work and travel freely throughout the San Francisco Bay Area."


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