The actions of John Leary, who died in 1993, were covered up by Jesuit officials and he was transferred to other jobs in the West, a news release states.

Share story

SPOKANE — The Rev. John Leary, a former president of Gonzaga University, was involved in the sexual abuse of boys and young men in the 1960s, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus said Friday.

The actions of Leary, who died in 1993, were covered up by Jesuit officials and he was transferred to other jobs in the West, said a news release from the Rev. John D. Whitney of Portland, Ore., leader of the Oregon Province.

“While today, stronger safeguards and clearer policies are in place, the Jesuits wish to publicly acknowledge the failures of our history and apologize to those who have suffered,” Whitney said in the release.

He called the cover-up “uncharacteristic.”

It was unclear how many people were molested by Leary. Whitney said the Jesuits had settled directly with two victims from Spokane, and two other people had named Leary in lawsuits filed against the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.

One reason the Jesuits released the information about Leary was to encourage any more victims to come forward, Whitney said.

“This is meant to minister to people who feel they have been shoved aside or ignored,” Whitney said.

After Gonzaga, Leary was transferred to posts in California, Utah and Nevada.

No sex abuse allegations have arisen from those later assignments, Whitney said.

The revelation was another blow for Catholics in the Spokane area. The Catholic Diocese of Spokane, which does not control the university, has filed for bankruptcy protection because of lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Whitney said the Oregon Province in recent weeks uncovered notes regarding Leary while preparing court documents in other abuse cases. He said he had long heard rumors that Leary left Spokane under a cloud, and the old notes provided confirmation.

But an advocate for sex abuse victims doubted the documents were recently found.

“At least a dozen times in the past few years, church officials have made identical claims, almost always after such records could have been crucial in litigation,” said David Clohessy, national director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“After the fact, they seem to never ‘find’ documents that exonerate abusive clergy, but rather prove even more extensive sex crimes and cover ups than were already disclosed,” Clohessy said.

Leary served as president of Gonzaga, a Jesuit-run university, from 1961 to 1969.

“My deepest sorrow and sympathy go out to the victims and their families,” said current Gonzaga President Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, also a Jesuit. “John Leary was highly regarded by many alumni, friends and other members of the community.”

Spitzer and Whitney both noted that procedures for dealing with allegations of clergy sex abuse have been changed, in the wake of a nationwide scandal, to prevent cover ups.

Allegations against Leary first surfaced in 1966. He denied them and remained in office, the Jesuits said. No investigation was undertaken.

In 1969, Spokane authorities raised new allegations against Leary, giving him 24 hours to leave Spokane or face arrest, the news release said.

The leader of the Jesuits in the Northwest accepted the offer, and created a story that Leary was resigning for health reasons and leaving Spokane, the release said.

“Going briefly to New York, then to Massachusetts, Leary was later assigned to positions throughout the western United States,” the release said.

“I can only surmise that fear of scandal and of harm to Gonzaga University gripped those Jesuits,” Whitney said.

“The Jesuits wish to publicly acknowledge the failures of our history and apologize to those who have suffered, in the hope that it might bring some healing and reconciliation,” Whitney said.

Dozens of claims of sexual abuse by priests led the Spokane Diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2004. In its bankruptcy petition, the diocese listed assets of $11 million against liabilities of at least $81.3 million, most from sex abuse claims.

The diocese serves about 90,000 Catholics in 82 parishes in 13 Eastern Washington counties.