SPOKANE, Wash. — The Diocese of Spokane said Thursday it was unacceptable that Jesuit priests credibly accused of sexual abuse were unsupervised on the campus of Gonzaga University. While Spokane’s current bishop had no knowledge the priests had been living at the university, the diocese said its prior bishop was informed of their presence in 2011.
“The Diocese of Spokane shares the concern of those who are angry and saddened to learn that the Oregon Province of Jesuits — now part of the Jesuits West Province — placed Jesuits credibly accused of sexual abuse at the Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga University’s campus without informing the Gonzaga community,” a Dec. 20 statement from the diocese read.
In June 2011, “the Jesuit provincial, Father Patrick Lee, informed then-Bishop Blase Cupich that seven priests with safety plans in place were living at Bea House,” the diocesan statement added.
“Bishop Thomas Daly — who was installed in 2015 — was not informed by the Jesuits or Gonzaga University that these men were living at Cardinal Bea House.”
While the Jesuit province informed the diocese that the accused priests “were living on campus with safety plans requiring such things as chaperones for any trips out of Cardinal Bea House and restricting their public ministry,” recent media reporting “indicates that these credibly accused Jesuits were free to come and go on campus,” the statement read.
“This was an unacceptable situation.”
Since at least 2003, several Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse were housed at the Cardinal Bea House on the campus of Spokane’s Gonzaga University, according to a series of investigative reports published this week by Northwest News Network and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The sexual-abuse accusations against the priests living on Gonzaga’s campus were not made known publicly by the university, the Jesuit province or the diocese. Most of the accused priests were reported to be living at the Gonzaga residence in retirement or due to declining health.
The house is a residence owned by the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and not overseen by the university. The credibly accused priests living there were reportedly subject to “safety plans” that forbade them from engaging with students.
According to the media reports, at least some credibly accused priests had regular unsupervised access to the university campus and unsupervised visits with students and were permitted to lead prayer services in other settings, including on Native-American reservations.
No priests known to have been accused of abuse are now living in the campus house. The last priest known to have been accused of abuse was moved from the facility in 2016.
A diocesan spokesman told CNA that the diocese believes the priests were permitted by the Jesuits only to perform ministry “within the Regis Community of Jesuits at the Bea House,” and therefore they did not request permission from the diocese for permission to celebrate Mass or other sacraments in other contexts.
“Priests residing in the diocese but not involved in active ministry would not be granted faculties unless they requested faculties. Credibly accused Jesuit priests such as James Poole were restricted by the province.”
However, a policy change approved last month by Spokane’s current head, Bishop Daly, requires any priest to undergo a background check before being permitted even to reside in the diocese, regardless of whether or not the priest intends to perform ministry.
The spokesman said that the diocese is “in the process of implementing the new policies and requirements for all extern priests resident in the diocese.”
Among the priests accused of sexual abuse who lived on the Gonzaga campus was Jesuit Father James Poole.
In 2005, an Anchorage woman, Elsie Boudreau, settled for $1 million a lawsuit against Father Poole, his Jesuit province and the Diocese of Fairbanks.
Boudreau’s lawsuit claimed that she was molested by Poole, who was stationed in her hometown of Nome, Alaska, from the time she was 10 years old until she was 19, when she told him she would never be alone with him again.
The Fairbanks Diocese paid half of the settlement, and the Oregon province paid the other half, according to a 2005 report in Spokane’s The Spokesman-Review.
At the time of the settlement, Jesuit provincial Father John Whitney told The Spokesman-Review that Father Poole had admitted the abuse and was moved to Gonzaga campus in 2003, after his admission.
Father Poole would not be permitted to leave his residence on the Gonzaga campus unaccompanied, nor would he be permitted to be alone with visitors, Father Whitney said.
Father Whitney also told The Spokesman-Review in 2005 that until Boudreau came forward, the Jesuit province had no idea that Father Poole had committed sexual abuse.
The Spokesman-Review, however, reported that Jesuit authorities knew since at least 1960 that Father Poole had acted inappropriately in conversations with children about sex. Jesuit authorities said at that time that Father Poole had “a fixation on sex; an obsession.”
And, despite Father Whitney’s 2005 remarks, Jesuit officials were informed in 1997 by Jesuit Bishop Michael Kaniecki of Fairbanks that Father Poole had a history of sexual misconduct and abuse allegations, a fact that had been known to Bishop Kaniecki, himself a Jesuit, since 1986.
Father Whitney did not inform Gonzaga administrators or Spokane police that Father Poole and other residents of the campus house were accused of sexually abuse. Despite the restrictions Father Whitney imposed on him, Father Poole regularly went to Gonzaga basketball games and its library and met alone with a female student at least once.
On Dec. 18 Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh said he had not been notified that priests credibly accused of abuse were living on the university’s campus until 2016, although he had learned “in the years following” 2011 that priests with safety plans had previously lived there.
McCulloh said that he was wounded to learn that “the Society of Jesus had knowingly sent a man with Poole’s record of sexual abuse to live in their facility within the parameters of our campus — which serves not only as the home of college students, but regularly hosts grade-school children and visitors of all ages — without notification by the province to the university.”
“I have asked that we be guaranteed that no Jesuit against whom credible allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse have been made ever be assigned to Gonzaga or the Jesuit communities here,” McCulloh added.
A spokesman for the Jesuits West Province, which was formed by a 2017 merger of the Oregon and California provinces of the order, said Dec. 18 that “Jesuits West guarantees that no Jesuit with a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is currently or will ever be knowingly assigned to Gonzaga University or the Jesuit community on its campus.”
Such priests will instead live in a health-care facility in California, the province said.