Jesuits Apologize in Alleged Rape by School Founder

By Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian

September 6, 2008

[with link to the Jesuit's apology]

Jesuits release apology

A 62-year-old woman, inspired by the courage of serial rapist Richard Gillmore's victims, showed up this summer at Jesuit headquarters in Portland to report she had been raped three decades ago by a prominent priest who helped start Jesuit High School.

The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus responded with a statement expressing sorrow for the woman's pain and acknowledged that the now-deceased priest, the Rev. Joseph Perri, "did not live fully the vows he had professed." The province also encouraged others who were abused by Perri to come forward.

Perri was one of the founders of Jesuit High School and served as its first principal from April 1956 until 1965. He died in March 1997 at age 77.

"On behalf of all Jesuits, I apologize for Joseph Perri's failure, and pledge that we will continue to labor to heal past abuses, even while we labor to build a more just future," the Rev. Patrick J. Lee, of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, said in a statement.

The 62-year-old woman, a retired grade school teacher, said she brought copies of news stories about Gillmore's victims when she went to the Jesuit headquarters last month. She said reading those women's accounts in The Oregonian persuaded her to come forward and report her secret of 30 years.

"Holding like five of the articles in my hand, I just said I need to tell you what happened to me," the woman said in an interview Friday.

The woman was 32 years old and teaching at a Portland grade school when she met Perri, who was working in the Jesuit province offices. He took her to his Jesuit cottage near Champoeg State Park, where the sexual assault occurred, she said. She didn't tell anyone, other than personal counselors in the past five years.

"I think I just went on with life and work" she said, "and pushed it away."

This summer, she informed her family members and then reported the assault to the Jesuits.

Apparently, there had been some prior complaints involving the priest, though the province declined to give details. The province investigated the woman's complaint as best as they could and determined it was credible. At the woman's request, the province said it released a statement "as a means of support and encouragement of all victims of sexual abuse."

The province acknowledged it also sought to avoid a lawsuit.

"The Oregon-based province seeks a pastoral solution that brings reconciliation and healing before something gets to court," said Pat Walsh, a province spokesman.

The woman who brought the recent complaint said the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus was supportive. "They were really compassionate and really concerned about my healing," she said.

Jesuit High School has removed Perri's name from a school building on its campus and from its annual fundraising appeal. Previously, those contributing $2,500 to $4,999 annually to the high school were deemed part of the "Joseph Perri, S.J. Circle."

In his statement, Lee wrote, "We are profoundly sorry for the pain caused to this woman and to her family by the actions of this Jesuit, who did not live fully the vows he had professed. Further, I apologize to others who will suffer from these revelations, especially those who knew and trusted Fr. Perri, including the members of his own family. The failure of any of our brothers to live respectfully and chastely harms us all, and for that I am sincerely sorry."

In Oregon, Jesuit priests teach at colleges and schools and staff more than half a dozen parishes. Perri was a parish administrator of St. Henry Catholic Church in Dexter, a small community southeast of Eugene, during the nine years prior to his death.

Born in Seattle, he was ordained a priest for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus on June 15, 1951. After serving as a vice principal of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Perri came to Oregon in 1956 to help establish Jesuit High School. When he left as principal in 1965, he became executive vice president and vice president of university relations at Seattle University.

From 1977 to 1983, he worked in Portland as executive assistant to the Jesuit provincial. He then was pastor of St. Luke Parish in Woodburn until 1988, when he moved to St. Henry Catholic Church in Dexter, according to the Catholic Sentinel.

Jesuit High School's principal, Sandy Satterberg, did not return calls Friday. The school's communications director, Erika Tuenge, referred questions to the Oregon province.

The woman, now a retired teacher, said she feels empowered by what she did. She plans to participate in a community march in Beaverton today to raise awareness for a nonprofit group that supports rape survivors called Walk A Mile In My Shoes. She also wants to contact Gillmore's sexual assault victims for support.

"I think a lot of women out there are keeping this story inside of themselves," she said.

The woman said she was pleased with the statement the Jesuits released, adding, "I felt really relieved and felt so supported. There's now a certain peace in my mind."

- Maxine Bernstein;


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