University president Thayne McCulloh's statement came in response to a report that found at least 20 priests had been sent to retire in a building on Gonzaga’s campus, despite supervisors knowing they had sexually abused children.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information from a statement issued by Jesuits West Province on Tuesday.
Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh has denied knowing that priests who had retired on campus had histories of sexual abuse, calling the revelations in an investigation published Monday “deeply disturbing.”
The investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and Northwest News Network found that at least 20 priests had been sent to retire at the Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga’s campus, despite supervisors knowing they had sexually abused children. While the house is on the Spokane campus, it’s owned and operated by the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church.
In a statement posted on the school’s website Tuesday, McCulloh said the school was not notified of the priests’ past abuse. McCulloh, who took office in 2010, said that “in the years following” 2011, he learned that priests had previously lived in the Cardinal Bea House under supervised “safety plans.”
But McCulloh said he didn’t realize there were priests with safety plans living on campus until 2016, when they were moved to a facility in Los Gatos, Calif., by the church.
Safety plans subject priests to restrictions from public ministry, contact with minors and travel, while requiring them to attend monthly meetings about compliance, according to a statement issued Tuesday by Jesuits West Province. The investigation found some abusive priests may have interacted with students despite the plans.
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The statement doesn’t address whether McCulloh sought to find out if there were sexually abusive priests on his campus before or after 2016. University spokesman Dave Sontagg declined to comment on the matter. Sontagg said the president wanted his statement to be the only university response and declined to answer further questions.
McCulloh said he only learned that one sexually abusive priest, Father James Poole, had lived on campus from 2003 to 2015 when U.S. Jesuit West released a list of such priests on Dec. 7, which included the names of priests who had worked or lived at Gonzaga.
“I had relied upon the Province to inform us of any Jesuit whose history might pose a threat to our students or campus community,” McCulloh said. “I deeply regret that I was not informed of the presence of Fr. Poole, nor any other Jesuit who might pose such a danger, at Cardinal Bea House.”
There are no Jesuits living on campus now who have been accused of sexual abuse, and the university is not aware of any reports of abuse or misconduct involving retired priests while they were on campus, McCulloh said in his statement.
“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, nor to any Jesuit work of the Province,” Jesuit West spokeswoman Tracey Primrose said in the organization’s statement.
The investigative report identified Poole as one priest sent to retire at Gonzaga, even though his abuse of young, mostly Alaska Native girls was known to his supervisors. The Seattle Times reported more than a decade ago that multiple girls said Poole molested them.
The former head of the Oregon Province who sent Poole to Gonzaga, Father John Whitney, told Reveal and Northwest News Network reporters it was the only facility in the province where abusive priests could be monitored. Whitney is now a pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Seattle.
The report also alleges that Father Frank Case, Gonzaga’s vice president, adviser to the president and chaplain for the men’s basketball team, helped Poole become chaplain of St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. Through Gonzaga’s public-relations office, Case told Reveal and Northwest News Network reporters he didn’t have access to Poole’s personnel file.
McCulloh did not mention Case in his statement, and Sontagg would not answer questions about Case.
In his statement, McCulloh said he felt disgusted and betrayed that Poole had been discreetly sent to retire on Gonzaga’s campus, which he said serves not only college students but “regularly hosts grade-school children and visitors of all ages.”
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