Suburban Woman, Others Say Priest Abused Them

By Sara Burnett
Chicago Daily Herald
November 6, 2003

Three women, including one from the Northwest suburbs, filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday against a priest they say sexually abused them while they were students at Loyola University in Chicago in the 1970s.

The suit, filed in Cook County, brings to seven the number of women who say they were abused by the Rev. John Powell, a Jesuit priest and author.

The women, two of whom wanted to become nuns, were in their late teens when they went to Powell "for counseling and spiritual guidance" but were instead abused, attorney Marc Pearlman said.

Today the women - including one from Iowa and another from the Kankakee area - are in their 40s and are married with children.

Pearlman said the women didn't report the crimes at the time because they were fearful of Powell's stature and popularity. Each believed they were the only victims until they heard about the lawsuits filed in September.

"Their lives have been profoundly influenced by this," Pearlman said. "Until very recently, they suffered in secrecy and silence."

The suit, which asks for more than $50,000 in damages and fees per plaintiff, also accuses the Jesuits, through the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus, of ignoring a victim's complaint against Powell in the early 1980s.

The Rev. James P. Gschwend, provincial delegate for the Chicago province, denied that claim, saying it is "not our normal way of proceeding."

"We have the greatest care and concern for the person bringing (complaints) forward," Gschwend said. "If they had come to us, we would have dealt with it. I'm sorry they felt they had to go through their attorney."

Powell, 78, has been ill and living in a retirement community in the Detroit area for several years, Gschwend said. He was taken off active status - meaning he can no longer perform priestly duties - after the first lawsuit was filed in September.

Powell is one of the most published religious writers in North America. His books include "Stories from My Heart," "The Secret of Staying in Love" and "Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?"


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