A Jesuit professor at Gonzaga University accused of making sexual advances and assaulting a seminarian in a civil lawsuit that was settled by the university has returned as a professor at the school.
The return of political science professor Michael Treleaven came during the same recent period when the university announced that its former president, John Leary, had abused young boys. It has caused some to question whether GU is taking aggressive action against current misconduct, even as it acknowledges crimes from the past.
“I think it’s just part of the pattern of lies and deceit from the Catholic Church about the activities of its priests,” said Michael Willing, the former seminarian who sued the school. “I think it’s deplorable.”
John Whitney, the provincial superior of the Oregon Society of Jesus, said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review on Sept. 8 that the allegations involving Treleaven were not as serious as Leary’s abuse of young boys.
“Michael Treleaven has never been accused of any misconduct with minors,” Whitney said. “I think it’s very different than what we’re talking about with Leary.”
Whitney described the incident as an “adult-adult thing, where there was a pass made and rebuffed.”
In the lawsuit filed in November 2004, Treleaven was accused of making an unwelcome proposition to Willing, and then assaulting him when he was rejected by twisting the man’s arm behind his back.
He left for a year, and GU settled the lawsuit. Willing said he was paid $45,000 in the settlement, which did not include an admission of guilt on Treleaven’s part. Treleaven is now back teaching in the political science department.
GU officials said they would have no comment on the Treleaven case, as it was a personnel matter. Treleaven did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Willing and his attorney on the case, Duane Rasmussen, objected to Whitney’s characterization of the incident as a “pass” between adults. While Willing was in his 20s when the incident occurred and was a seminarian training to become a Jesuit, he said that Treleaven occupied a position of authority over students no matter their age.
“This was not a situation that occurred between two consenting adults,” Rasmussen said. “The assault was just that – a sexual assault.”
Willing says he’s aware of other complaints about Treleaven, though Whitney said the Jesuits had investigated and found no other allegations.
Willing noted the presence of photos that hung in the halls at Campion House, a freshman dorm where Treleaven was chaplain. In the photos, two copies of which were provided to The Spokesman-Review, Treleaven posed with groups of young men stripped to shorts and in some cases seemingly naked. He was clothed in the photos.
Rasmussen said he’d been told by a university official that the photos reflected “youthful high jinks.”
Treleaven joined the Jesuits in 1973 and was ordained a priest 10 years later.
He began working as a political science professor in 1993.
Whitney said Treleaven took off a year after the allegation arose, and the Jesuits looked for any further evidence or complaints against him.
“And there’s been nothing,” he said.
“Not all violations of the vows are of the same caliber,” he said. “Has he been stupid? Yes, he’s been stupid.”
Willing, who now works as executive director of a nonprofit in Helena, sees the events of the past year as indicative of a larger pattern within the Jesuits and Catholic Church, which has been racked by allegations of sexual abuse by priests in recent years.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “I think it’s a pattern with the Jesuits to put people in hiding … and now they can bring him back in the hopes that no one will raise any questions.”
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