A woman in Anchorage, Alaska, received a $1 million settlement this week for the alleged childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of a Jesuit priest now retired in Spokane.
Elsie Boudreau was first molested in the late 1970s by the Rev. James Poole when she was a 10-year-old in Nome, according to the lawsuit filed in Alaska a year ago against the priest, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, the Alaska Jesuits and the Diocese of Fairbanks.
The abuse continued until she was 19 years old, when she was able to tell him that she never wanted to be alone with him again.
Half of the settlement money came from the Fairbanks Diocese; the other half was paid by the Oregon Province, which is affiliated with Gonzaga University and responsible for numerous ministries in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska.
The $500,000 from the Jesuits is one of the highest settlements ever paid out by the Oregon Province.
“It’s a pretty major settlement for us,” acknowledged the Rev. John D. Whitney, the Jesuit provincial and leader of the roughly 250 Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest. Since the Oregon Province doesn’t have much insurance for abuse cases, 80 percent of that money has to be paid by the province.
It’s hard to put a monetary amount on a person’s pain, Whitney said. No amount could make up for a person’s loss, he said, but this settlement was a “just” acknowledgement of the victim’s suffering.
“The money shows that (the Jesuits) understand and believe that the victim is telling the truth,” said Ken Roosa, Boudreau’s attorney in Anchorage. “They recognize that the sexual abuse children suffered have scarred them for life.”
Whitney said Poole admitted to him that he had indeed abused Boudreau. Once he found out, the provincial removed the priest from his hospital ministry in Tacoma and sent him to Regis Jesuit Community, a home for retired Jesuits on the Gonzaga campus.
Poole, who is 81, did not return phone calls for an interview.
“He’s done terrible things. I can assure you he’s deeply sorrowful,” said Whitney.
According to the provincial, the priest is not allowed to leave the building unless he is accompanied by another Jesuit. The staff at Regis also carefully monitors his actions, and Poole is never left alone with visitors. His primary job is to tend the graves of dead Jesuits at Mount St. Michaels’ cemetery.
Until Boudreau came forward about the abuse, no one from the Oregon Province had any idea that Poole had committed sexual abuse, Whitney said.
“It was a shock to all of us,” he said. “This is not what I’ve given my life to, what Jesuits have given our lives to. We don’t protect people who have done this.”
Whitney, who knows Boudreau’s family, wrote her an apology and visited her in Anchorage to express his remorse. “I wish there was a way for people to read my heart and see how sorry I am,” the provincial said.
Boudreau – a 37-year-old social worker in Anchorage and the mother of two – is traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Her attorney said Boudreau is among many women who were victimized as young girls by Poole. Roosa considers him a threat to “any woman he can get his hand on.”
“He did horrible things to little kids,” Roosa said. “He has done this all his life.”
While considered high by the Jesuits, the $500,000 in Boudreau’s case is not the most that the Oregon Province has ever paid out. To Whitney’s knowledge, that figure was roughly $700,000.
From 1950 to 2002, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus spent $2.5 million settling cases of clergy sexual abuse, according to the John Jay Study that documented the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse problem. Sixteen of the 662 priests and deacons who belonged to the province during that 52-year period had been accused of abuse. Thirty-two victims had come forward during that time frame.
Since the sex abuse crisis rocked the American Catholic Church in 2002, the Oregon Province has spent another $5 million to settle 23 more cases, Whitney said. The vast majority of them have been in Alaska involving allegations against Jules Convert, a Jesuit who is now dead.
Some of those settlements were paid to people who didn’t file lawsuits, Whitney said. “We’ve tried to settle these because we want to find healing,” said Whitney. “My belief is that the vast majority of these (allegations) are true, and we’re trying to find justice.”
“It’s a humbling time,” Whitney later said, describing the turmoil surrounding the sexual abuse allegations. “But maybe we need to be humbled.”