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Jesuits sent abusive priests to retire at the campus of Gonzaga

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

Behind the radio station is closed doors, Poole was a serial sexual predator. He abused at least 20 women and girls, according to the court documents. At least 6 years old. An Alaska Native-wife says he impregnated her when she was 16, then forced her to have an abortion and the guilt of her father for raping her. Her father went to prison.

Like so many other Catholic priests in the whole country, Poole’s inappropriate conduct with young girls was well known to his superiors. A Jesuit supervisor once warned a church official that Poole “has a fixation on sex; an obsession; a kind of mental aberration that makes him see sex everywhere.”

But the last chapter in his story reveals a new twist in the Catholic abuse scandal: Poole was sent to live his retirement years on the Gonzaga University 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 mainly occurred in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the Northwest, a study by the Northwest News Network and the Reveal of The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A wealth of internal Jesuit correspondence shows a long-existing pattern of the Jesuits, the officials in the Oregon Province — an administrative area that included Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska — private recognition of the problems of inappropriate sexual behavior, but not releasing that information to the public, to avoid scandal and to protect the perpetrators of the persecution.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the non-profit news outlet to Reveal The Center for Investigative Reporting. Subscribe to the newsletter: revealnews.org/newsletter.

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When the abuse was discovered, the priests would be assigned, sometimes to the other Indigenous community.

As soon as the abuse by priests reach the retirement age, the Jesuits, she moved to Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga’s campus or any other Jesuit residence, to comfortably spend the rest of their lives in relative peace and safety. The university administration did not respond to requests to answer a call or to the administration or the students were aware of the presence of known sexual offenders on campus.

The last known abusive priest was moved from Cardinal Bea House in 2016, Jesuit records show.

Father John Whitney, the former leader of the Oregon Province, who ordered Poole to move to Cardinal Bea House, said the jesuit order has an obligation to provide for the priests in retirement. He said that it is the only facility in the province where past offenders, such as Poole, in his 80s, can be limited effectively, while also receiving the necessary medical care.

Poole lived to Cardinal Bea House from 2003 to 2015. If he had been allowed to live independently, without supervision church, he would certainly have abused more people, even on his high age, Whitney has said in an interview.

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

In a few of the deposition in 2005, Whitney said that he is not aware Gonzaga administrators or the police in Spokane about Poole history after moving him to Cardinal Bea House. A Spokane Police spokesperson said they had not received any reports, either Gonzaga or the jesuit order, about the accusations against all the inhabitants of Cardinal Bea House.

Non-abusive Jesuits also lived to Cardinal Bea House, but there were specific “safety plan” for addicts that prohibited the sexual abuse of priests of mingling with students. The Oregon Province would not release copies of the plans. While we learned of no reports of residents abuse of Gonzaga students, the restrictions were not strictly enforced.

In a deposition in one of the several lawsuits filed against him, Poole said that he regularly went to the library of the school and play basketball. Poole said he had a meeting 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 allowed to interview residents, including Joseph Obersinner, who worked in the Indigenous communities in Montana, Washington and Idaho. He was accused of sexual misconduct against a minor.

“We love to be in the middle of the campus,” Obersinner told the school of the student newspaper. “It is a blessing to see the active energy and the joy of youth every day.”

Cardinal Bea House is a small, low, brick building, with large windows to the front and a small carport behind. It looks like a nondescript office building, save for the white statue of an angel-winged saint standing guard over the entrance to the front. On a recent crisp fall day, a prankster had slipped a hand-rolled cigarette between the statue’s fingers.

While the building on campus maps, and is listed in the campus directory, it is not officially part of the private Jesuit university. Cardinal Bea House is owned by the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church.

Poole was added to Cardinal Bea House by other priests whose abuse was known, often for years, by the Jesuits.

Father James Jacobson, sent there in the middle of the years 2000, was accused of sexual abuse by members of the Alaska Native community of Nelson Island. He claimed that he’s never been anyone forced to have sex, say in a deposition that he had consensual sex with seven Native women. He admitted to fathering four children, and the use of the church funds to hire prostitutes in Anchorage and Fairbanks when he was principal of a Jesuit boarding school in Glennallen.

Another priest, Henry Hargreaves, accused of sexually assaulting young boys, was sent to Cardinal Bea House of 2003, and then allowed to lead prayer services in at least four indigenous communities in two reservations in the state of Washington.

The abuse Jesuits to Cardinal Bea House was part of the Oregon Province big 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 the data we collected from the church records of a database that is maintained by the advocates for sexual abuse victims, and information which earlier this month by the Jesuits. In addition, about 80 percent of accused perpetrators worked in Indigenous communities in the Oregon Province.

Poole is described as charismatic, outgoing and narcissistic, so he was perfectly suited for his role as the voice of KNOM, the station he founded in 1971. Elsie Boudreau, an Alaska Native-was a station volunteer and one of Poole’s victims. From the time she was 10 until she was 16, she is a volunteer at KNOM.

Boudreau said in an interview that when she was 11 or 12, during a Saturday music request show in which they were alone in the studio, Poole would kiss her on the lips and fondle her, something they didn’t realize that was wrong until she was much older. He also made her sit on his lap and lying on top of his body.

For Boudreau, it was a slap in the face that Poole lived out his retirement comfortably until he died in the beginning of this year. “For me, what that says is there to take care of them,” Boudreau said. “They are protected by the Catholic Church, as the victims were never protected.”

The Jesuits’ deep roots in the Indigenous communities

The Catholic Church is deeply embedded in the Indigenous communities of Alaska and indian reservations in the Northwest. In the early 1900’s, the Jesuits had established a school and an orphanage Elsie Boudreau, the home of the predominantly Alaska Native community of St. Mary’s in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

The jesuits, officially called the society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded in the early 1500’s. While the Jesuits can work in the various roles of the parish priests of the teachers, the order is known for its academic and socially conscious bent. There are more than 100 Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities in North America.

Jesuit priests were formidable figures in small Indigenous villages, presiding over the daily lives of the Mass weddings, baptisms, to dig; even the teaching of the catechism classes, where a part of the abuse of the youngest victims took place. Boudreau said she, and she looked at her Catholicism as more central to her identity than is Yup’I. That religious identity was compromised by her abuse.

“The whole premise behind the Catholic Church and their mission with the Indigenous population, with indigenous people, is to strip them of their identity, Boudreau said. “And so, sexual abuse is one way. I think the intentionally if you have a setting that is aware of the problem priests, offender priests, and to move them to the places where they believe people are ‘less than’,’ where they believed the people there don’t speak out.”

In 2002, two other forms of abuse victims in Boudreau, the community filed a lawsuit against the church. Learning of the suit of a news story, Boudreau, then in her early 30s, was a shock of recognition. They, too, had suffered abuse, and no longer wanted to be silent.

Boudreau reported her abuse and was very dissatisfied with the answer. The region’s presiding bishop eventually invited her to a meeting, but Boudreau said that he doesn’t seem to understand how the abuse has had on her life.

“It was very clear that he does not care about what happened to me,” Boudreau said. “He didn’t want to acknowledge that little girl, who was hurt and say,” I’m sorry that happened to you, what can I do?’ Instead, I was a liability.”

But still, Jesuit leadership had known about James Poole’s behavior for longer than Boudreau had been living. In 1960 a letter to a Jesuit official, local Jesuit leader Segundo Llorente worried about Poole’s behaviour. Poole regularly had long, one-on-one conversations with young girls about sex, Llorente wrote. Llorente letter speculated that Poole, “has a fixation on sex; an obsession; a kind of mental aberration that makes him see sex everywhere. Some think that it can be (sic) he projects to the outside what is eating him inside . he is deliberately placing himself at all times in dangerous situations.”

There would be a number of personal insight in those words. The names of both Llorente and the Alaska church officials with whom he corresponds, Father Paul O’connor, appeared on a list released by the Fairbanks Diocese in 2009 of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Despite Llorente’s warning, Poole’s abuse of minors and young women in Alaska went on for decades, according to lawyers who represented clients, as well as letters of church officials and other court documents. At least one victim accused him of rape.

In another letter, from 1986, that has not previously been made public, Bishop Michael Kaniecki, of Fairbanks, wrote to Archbishop Francis Thomas Hurley of Anchorage: “Hopefully, my letter will nip this mess in the bud. Tried to cover all bases, and yet not admit that it is something.”

In 1988, Poole was removed from his position at KNOM after young women who had gathered at the station, wrote letters to the bishop in which she accused Poole of sexual misconduct.

The following year, Father Frank Case, the head of the Oregon Province, approved Poole for a new position. Case is currently the vice-president of Gonzaga, a consultant to the school president, and the chaplain for the school’s nationally-ranked men’s basketball team, the Bulldogs.

He wrote a letter to the Catholic chaplains association back Poole’s application to be a chaplain in the St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington.

“(Poole) is a Jesuit in very good condition and it is my strong expectation that he will serve in such a service in a way that is both generous and effective,” Case wrote. Poole got the job, working in the hospital until 2003.

In a 2008 deposition, in the Case said he would not judge Poole’s personnel file for writing the letter, because he had no indication of any misconduct. In a statement by the Gonzaga University’s public relations office, in the Case said, that he did not have access to Poole’s personnel file.

It was only in 1997, 37 years after Llorente in the letter of caution, that church officials eventually came to their Poole problem as critical. That December, the bishop of Fairbanks sent a letter to the head of the Oregon Province, at least the third provincial to go with Poole ‘ s sexual misconduct. “Unfortunately, more skeletons come falling out of the closet . if we do not make a clean cut with Poole, it might jump up and bite us,” he wrote, pointing to a potential whistleblower was threatening to publicly expose the extent of Poole’s wrongdoing.

The following year, the bishop sent another letter to the province of head insist Poole the old sermons and ministerial posts will be removed from the KNOM the ether entirely. “We can end up with a scandal and a possible lawsuit (sic),” the letter reads. “It is my fear . that if the wrong person hears Jim’s voice anywhere, it might be the drop that makes the bucket overflow.”

Those fears were prescient. In 2003, the year Poole was forced to retire to Cardinal Bea House, Boudreau was the first person to sue Poole and the church, and not withhold her name to the public.

It was Boudreau is the only way of the story because the statute of limitations on the prosecution of her claim in the criminal court. At the time, Alaska has a five-year period for the prosecution of sexual abuse of minors. She is one of the more than 300 Alaska Native victims of sexual abuse of children by clergy.

In a deposition for the lawsuit, Poole admitted abuse of Boudreau. He denied ever raping someone. He justified his actions with Boudreau and other victims, because they fell short of intercourse. “I thought I was bringing love into the lives of other people,” he said.

Boudreau’s suit was settled in 2005 for $1 million. It was followed by at least five other lawsuits specific naming of Poole and accusing him of widespread abuse.

Hundreds of other species followed, the naming of dozens of other sexually abusive priests who are active in the Oregon Province. The Jesuits settled in this lawsuit for a reported $166 million, the costs of which forced the province to bankruptcy in 2009. It was the third largest settlement in Catholic Church history.

Stories such as Poole’s echo in Alaska Native communities. St. Mary’s has only 500 inhabitants, but at least 15 priests accused of sexual abuse were stationed there between 1927 and 1998. It was so thin that Boudreau says at least two of her seven brothers and sisters and two of her cousins were also sexually abused by Jesuit priests.

The names of religious and lay people accused of abuse, who lived in Alaska at some point in their time at the church should be listed and published every year by the Fairbanks Diocese as part of the 2010 settlement of the bankruptcy. At the end of October, the diocese listed 46 people.

A man on the list is the aforementioned Father James Jacobson, accused of abuse in 1967 by the members of the Alaska Native community of Nelson Island. In a letter to the time, the Jesuit superior in Alaska, Jules, said he was not sure of the accuracy of the allegations against Jacobson because the people of Nelson Island “are not yet advanced enough to be impartial and true testimony.”

Jacobson has been sent to the pension to Cardinal Bea House of 2005. Was also accused of sexually abusing dozens of young boys in Alaska.

“I have to take responsibility for this’

In 2002, John Whitney was installed as the leader of the Oregon Province. He had to deal with a flood of allegations against priests in the province, to begin days after taking the position. It was a situation, he said, for which his previous education had not adequately prepared him.

A year later, Elsie Boudreau filed her lawsuit, and Whitney took action against James Poole. He immediately ordered Poole to stop celebrating Mass, and sent him directly to Cardinal Bea House. “You are not to have unsupervised contact with minors, nor are you to meet only with women,” Whitney wrote.

Whitney said Cardinal Bea House was the only place where Poole could be monitored, but Poole, the movement of the whole campus, and at least on one occasion, met only with a female student.

Whitney told us in a recent interview that the order does not contact the local police department because Poole, and other priests with accusations against them was not criminally charged.

Gonzaga university would not answer questions about whether top officials knew about abusive priests, Cardinal Bea House. University officials refused multiple requests for interviews over a period of six weeks. Several top university officials, however, held leadership positions in the Jesuit Oregon Province as the sex-abuse scandal unfolded.

Now a self-described “simple priest” in Seattle, Whitney is still processing his role in the crisis.

“I think some of the people deserved to be in jail,” Whitney said. “We knew that We could not put them in jail. I felt that we had a responsibility to watch over them and that is what we have tried to do. Now, sometimes the guards all merciful, overly? Maybe. I don’t know. It is difficult to guard.”

Whitney was candid about what he owed to the survivors and their families. “I have to take responsibility for this, personally. It can’t be something that is transferred to someone else,” he said. “They deserved to have against me to fight.”

Asked whether he thinks that Poole is in hell, Whitney said he believes that Poole is a kind of purgatory. “I think what purgatory is that we all need to be removed from the things that we hold,” Whitney said. “In be permanently removed from these things, we have to deal with what we others.”

Whitney has said the church needs to come to a public accountability, the opening of the archives to show that it is serious about stamping out abuse. The recent grand jury report from Pennsylvania, which revealed decades of abuse hidden for the public, by the church, is the work that must be done by the community itself, ” he said.

Earlier this month, the Jesuits of the West, the new province created with 2017 merger of the Oregon and California provinces, voluntarily released the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors or “vulnerable adults.” But the new list shows at least 13 priests previously accused publicly in lawsuits and bankruptcy documents.

Tracey Primrose, a spokeswoman for the Jesuits of the West, says that there are still more names can be added in the future, after an external review due to be completed by the spring, but did not explain the omissions.

The Jesuits have a new place to send the offenders

There are not more well-known abusive priests to Cardinal Bea House. In the last few years, they moved south to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California.

Sacred Heart is a former training school, where a part of the abuse by priests began their preparation for Jesuit life decades ago. The facility is hidden behind a hill winery, which also used to be the property of the Jesuits and was used for the production of Communion wine. The order stopped the production of wine in 1986, and the winery is now operated by a secular company.

The purpose of the reorganization, John Whitney said, placing the priests in a more secure and isolated location. Since many of the offending Jesuits are older, and a decline in health, the Sacred Heart was also a place where they could get better medical care.

But Sacred Heart has problems of its own. By the move of registered sexual offenders in a facility that also services for vulnerable people created an environment where predators had space to commit abuse.

In 2002, two mentally disabled men to work, such as dishwashers at the facility received a combined $7.5 million settlement of the order for decades of sexual abuse by a Jesuit priest Edward Thomas Burke and Brother Charles Leonard Connor. After a friend of one of the victims went to the police, both men were convicted and required to register as sex offenders.

The Jesuits also settled a separate lawsuit for $1.6 million after a priest abused, James Chevedden, was killed.

He, too, was sexually abused by Connor when he was sent to the Sacred Heart after suffering a nervous breakdown. When Chevedden learned Connor is back to Sacred Heart, and that the other abusive clergy would be sent, he asked to be moved. When his request was denied, he killed himself, according to the lawsuit filed by Chevedden’s father.

California database of sex offenders is an enumeration of a person who, at Sacred Heart, Gary Uhlenkott, a Jesuit and former Gonzaga University music professor who was sentenced to six months in prison in May after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. However, the list released earlier this month of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors shows at least seven currently living at Sacred Heart.

James Poole died in March at the Sacred Heart. His remains were sent back to Spokane, where they were inurned at the Jesuits’ grassy cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

While he was stationed at the Cardinal Bea House, Poole is responsible for maintaining the cemetery grounds.

There, Poole’s remains rest in the middle of 54 other Jesuits, who were also accused of sexual abuse. They are outside the gate of a K-12 school.

The carefree voices of children of the same age as Elsie Boudreau when she was abused floating above the ground during recess.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the non-profit news outlet to Reveal The Center for Investigative Reporting. Subscribe to the newsletter: revealnews.org/newsletter.

This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and Narda Zacchino and copy edited by Stephanie Rice.

Emily Schwing can be reached at emily@nwnewsnetwork.org Aaron Sankin can be reached at asankin@revealnews.org and Michael Corey can be reached at mcorey@revealnews.org. Follow them on Twitter: @EmilySchwing, @asankin and @mikejcorey.

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