Suit Says Jesuits Ignored Warnings about Priest

By Erik Eckholm
New York Times
March 28, 2011

Donald J. McGuire, later convicted of sexual abuse, above with John Doe 129 at his First Communion in 1985, in a photograph provided by John Doe 129

Jesuit leaders in Chicago largely ignored or kept secret numerous reports, spanning four decades, that a prominent priest was sexually abusing teenage boys, lawyers for victims charged on Monday in a motion for punitive damages in a Chicago court.

Included in the motion were more than 65 recently obtained church documents and depositions that, the lawyers said, demonstrated “a reckless disregard for the safety of others in the face of repeated reports of sexual misconduct” on the part of Chicago Jesuit leaders.

The former priest, Donald J. McGuire, now 80, was convicted on several counts of sex abuse in state and federal courts in 2006 and 2008, and is serving a 25-year federal sentence.

The newly public documents date from the early 1960s, when a concerned Austrian priest, in imperfect English, first observed in a letter to Chicago Jesuits that Father McGuire, newly ordained and studying in Europe, had “much relations with several boys.” The reports extend into the last decade, when Father McGuire reportedly ignored admonitions to stop traveling with young assistants, molesting one as late as 2003, as law enforcement was closing in. The legal motion argues that Father McGuire’s superiors in Chicago turned “a blind eye to his criminal actions.”

The current case started with a civil suit brought by six men who say they were victims. Three have since settled with the Jesuits, but three others, identified as John Doe 117, John Doe 118 and John Doe 129, are still pursuing the suit against the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus and Mr. McGuire. Most of the newly released documents were obtained in the discovery process for the suit: letters and memos the church was required to produce from its files, and transcripts of depositions.

Donald J. McGuire with Mother Teresa in 1991 in a photograph provided by John Doe 129.

The motion filed on Monday asks the Cook County Circuit Court to take the unusual step of considering additional, punitive damages, given what the motion says is the evidence of a long trail of credible warnings about the priest’s behavior and ineffective responses by church officials.

Terence McKiernan, president of, a victim advocacy group that has long monitored the church’s response to sexual abuse charges, said that the series of warnings given to Jesuit leaders by parents and fellow priests was unusually long and clear.

“I have never seen such detailed and frequent notice received by the priest’s superiors, so many ‘directives’ regarding the priest’s future behavior, and so much evidence presented to his superiors that those directives were being violated, without the priest being removed from ministry,” Mr. McKiernan said.

His group has posted a history of the case and many of the key documents.

Mariah E. Moran, a lawyer for the Chicago Province, said she could not comment on the motion because she had not had a chance to study it, and a spokesman for the province did not respond to requests for comment. In depositions and settlement meetings over the last three years, senior Jesuit officials have said that until recent years they had not heard firm-enough evidence of sexual abuse to justify stronger action against Father McGuire.

Last week, the Jesuits’ Oregon Province agreed to pay $166 million to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse, which occurred decades ago at remote Indian boarding schools. The two cases shed rare light on how religious orders have dealt with charges of sexual abuse, as opposed to the Catholic dioceses and bishops at the center of most recent scandals. The Jesuits are the world’s largest Roman Catholic religious order.

The motion filed on Monday charges that the church misled prosecutors in 2006, with its lawyers claiming that they had little information about the priest — despite the lengthy record of complaints.

The case has been acutely troublesome for the Jesuits, an order known for its scholarship and its elite high schools and universities. Father McGuire was by all accounts a mesmerizing teacher, and after he was barred by some Jesuit schools in the 1960s and 1970s for suspicious behavior, including having students share his bedroom, he went on to became a popular leader of eight-day spiritual retreats around the country and the world.

For about two decades, starting in the early 1980s, he was a spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa, who put him in charge of retreats for the nuns in her worldwide order, Missionaries of Charity. Several times each year, in India, the United States, Russia and other countries, he led retreats for the sisters.

In these travels he routinely took along a teenage boy as an assistant, saying he needed help administering his diabetes treatment. In complaints voiced by some parents and priests at the time, and in later depositions, those assistants said their duties often included sleeping in the same bed as Father McGuire, showering and reading pornography together, providing intimate massages and watching him masturbate.

The Jesuits have their own administrative structure, with a leader in Rome and regional provinces in the United States, although they also operate with permission from local bishops.

On his return from Europe in the 1960s, Father McGuire was assigned to live and teach at Loyola Academy, a high school in Wilmette, Ill. Two boys stayed with him in his room for about two years each, where he constantly abused them, according to the 2006 trial.

In 1969 the second of those boys, then 15, ran away and described the abuse to his parish priest, who contacted the Jesuit president of the academy. The school responded by removing Father McGuire, but, according to a letter released on Monday, publicly described his departure as a “sabbatical.”

In 1991, in another of the many warnings revealed on Monday, the director of a retreat house in California reported to the Chicago Province’s leader that Father McGuire was traveling with a teenage boy from Alaska and sharing a bed with him, and that the boy’s mother had expressed her concern that “her son has in some way changed.”

That year, the Chicago Province’s leader, the Rev. Robert A. Wild, imposed the first set of “guidelines” on Father McGuire. In written instructions he said: “I ask that you not travel on any overnight trip with any boy or girl under the age of 18 and preferably even under the age of 21.” But Father McGuire was left to police himself, and Father Wild said in a 2009 deposition that he had regarded the case as “a serious matter” but also “ambiguous.”

The province sent Father McGuire in 1993 for a psychiatric examination and six months at a treatment center in Maryland — but in the week before he was to report for the evaluation, he was allowed to conduct a retreat in Phoenix, where he molested another boy, the documents indicate.

As late as 1998, the new documents show, the Chicago provincial wrote a letter of “good standing” for Father McGuire to allow him to minister in a diocese, stating that “there is nothing to our knowledge in his background which would restrict any ministry with minors.”

As the reports of abuse accumulated, the Chicago leaders issued one set of restrictions after another on Father McGuire, finally, in 2002, saying he could minister only to nuns in the Chicago region. But none of these directives were enforced, the court motion asserts.

Father McGuire was formally removed from the priesthood in February 2008 after a conviction in Wisconsin and after a federal indictment had been issued in Illinois.


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