Investigative team unmasks Gonzaga University as retirement spot for predator priests

This has not been a good week for the Jesuits, what with two U.S. Jesuit provinces releasing a list of 84 clergy credibly accused of sex abuse. Including those on another list released Dec. 7, that’s about 230 Jesuits credibly accused of abusing a child since the 1950s.

Where did some of these Jesuits go once they were accused? To a Catholic university in Spokane, we learned on Monday. A team of three reporters from Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Reporting tell us that Gonzaga University served as a retirement center for 20-some priests who were accused of sexual misconduct in Alaska or on Indian reservations.

This is a depressingly familiar pattern: Hide the erring priests in places attended by minorities or in the middle of nowhere. Tmatt wrote in November about how Hispanic parishes in the 1980s were increasingly on the receiving end for shady priests.

Alaska has been a dumping ground for predators for years. PBS had a huge story called “The Silence” on this back in 2011 by Mark Trahant, a Native American journalist. It talks about how 80 percent of the youth in one Alaska village were molested by someone in the church and has pretty amazing video of Natives talking about their abuse. Read the transcript here if you don’t have time for the 28-minute documentary.

Read the investigation here:

On the surface, Father James Poole seemed like the cool priest in Nome, Alaska. He founded a Catholic mission radio station that broadcast his Jesuit sermons alongside contemporary pop hits. A 1978 story in People magazine called Poole “Western Alaska’s Hippest DJ . Comin’ at Ya with Rock’n’Roll ‘n’ Religion.”

Behind the radio station’s closed doors, Poole was a serial sexual predator. He abused at least 20 women and girls, according to court documents. At least one was 6 years old. One Alaska Native woman says he impregnated her when she was 16, then forced her to get an abortion and blame her father for raping her. Her father went to prison…

But the last chapter in his story reveals a new twist in the Catholic abuse scandal: Poole was sent to live out his retirement years on Gonzaga University’s campus in Spokane, Washington.

For more than three decades, Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga’s campus served as a retirement repository for at least 20 Jesuit priests accused of sexual misconduct that predominantly took place in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the Northwest…

Once the abusive priests reached retirement age, the Jesuits moved them to Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga’s campus or another Jesuit residence, to comfortably spend the rest of their lives in relative peace and safety. The university administration did not respond to requests for an interview to answer whether the administration or student body were aware of the presence of known sexual offenders on campus.

Actually, Gonzaga students have known about it for some time (a source told me), but were not allowed to break the story. Their student newspaper finally ran two articles on it here and here after the Associated Press broke the story.

The response from the church?

Father John Whitney, the former leader of the Oregon Province who ordered Poole to move into Cardinal Bea House, said the Jesuit order is obligated to provide for priests in retirement. He said it was the only facility in the province where past offenders like Poole, then in his 80s, could be contained effectively while also receiving necessary medical care.

Poole resided at Cardinal Bea House from 2003 to 2015. If he had been allowed to live independently, without church oversight, he surely would have abused more people, even at his advanced age, Whitney said in an interview.

The house, Whitney said, was “a retirement community where he could be monitored.”

I just re-watched the PBS video and it was saying seven years ago that Poole was “in a church retirement home near Spokane, Washington.”

So it was openly known that Poole and his ilk were hanging about a college campus. There were no restrictions on their movements.

In a deposition in one of the several lawsuits filed against him, Poole said he regularly went to the school library and basketball games. Poole said he met with a female student alone in the living room of Cardinal Bea House when she came to interview him for a report on Alaska. Student journalists and filmmakers in 2010 and 2011 were also permitted to interview residents …

As I compared what “The Silence” said and what this investigation came out with this week, it’s clear that a lot of the information this reporter triad came up with had already appeared elsewhere. They simply packaged it differently, concentrating on the Bea House and why it was that all these priests got sent there instead of to jail.

The abusive Jesuits at Cardinal Bea House were part of the Oregon Province’s outsized problem with sexual misconduct. The province had 92 Jesuits accused of sexual abuse, by far the most of any province in the country, according to data we compiled from church records, a database maintained by advocates for sex abuse victims, and information released earlier this month by the Jesuits. In addition, about 80 percent of accused abusers worked in Native communities in the Oregon Province.

Eighty percent worked in Native communities? If that’s not a toxic dump, what is?

The article goes on and on recording Poole’s sordid decades of abusing and raping girls and boys. Church officials knew of his predilections in 1960, the article says, yet he was not forced out until 2003, when Elsie Boudreau, one of his victims, sued the church.

These retired priest abusers are no longer sent to Spokane, but are now interned at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif. But even there, the abusers were active, the article says, going after medically fragile people who were housed at the same facility. One of the latter was a priest suffering a mental breakdown. When he learned of all the abusers who were living down the hall from him, he killed himself.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Being that the presence of these priests was already widely known, this story was low-hanging fruit. Still, I’m grateful someone reported on it (where was the Spokesman Review, the local newspaper, in all this?) even if it took an out-of-town team to do so. Investigative dollars are finally funding the recesses of the Catholic abuse scandal and since there’s a rich mother lode of unreported facts still out there, I’m guessing this piece is merely one of the first among many.

FIRST IMAGE: Gonzaga University website.

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