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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Catholic Diocese says bishop wasn’t told about 7 accused priests at Gonzaga University

Spokane’s Catholic bishop, Thomas Daly, is photographed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. His diocese responded Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, to accounts of sexually abusive priests who were sent to retire at Gonzaga University. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The Catholic Diocese of Spokane weighed in Thursday on recent controversy over the housing of sexually abusive priests at Gonzaga University, expressing concern that some accused priests may have been allowed to wander the campus unsupervised despite “safety plans” requiring chaperones.

The diocese released a statement Thursday in response to accounts published over the weekend by the Northwest News Network and the Emeryville, California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, which produces the popular podcast “Reveal.”

“The reporting by ‘Reveal’ and the Center for Investigative Reporting indicates that these credibly accused Jesuits were free to come and go on campus,” the statement says. “This was an unacceptable situation.”

That response is markedly different from a statement released earlier this week by the Jesuits West Province, an administrative area for the religious order that encompasses 10 western states.

The Jesuit province, which operates independently of the Catholic diocese, described policies for creating and auditing safety plans and said all of its accused priests were moved to a California facility in 2016.

But a province spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday on assertions that safety plans had not been rigorously enforced for priests living in the Jesuit-owned Cardinal Bea House on the Gonzaga campus.

The statement from the Spokane diocese says that in 2011, the Jesuit provincial, the Rev. Patrick Lee, informed then-Bishop Blase Cupich that seven priests with safety plans were living in the Bea House.

But, the statement says, neither the Jesuits nor Gonzaga University passed along that same information to Bishop Thomas Daly when he was installed in the Spokane diocese in 2015.

Daly, a conservative bishop, and Cupich, now a cardinal and close ally of Pope Francis, represent different wings of a church still grappling with the sexual abuse crisis 17 years after explosive reports of cover-ups emerged out of Boston.

Many U.S. bishops were outraged last month when the Vatican barred them from taking action to confront the problem until a major summit scheduled for February.

The Spokane diocese includes more than 80 parish communities in 13 Eastern Washington counties. Policy changes adopted in November require outside clergy, including retired priests, to submit recommendation letters and complete background checks if they plan to spend more than 30 days in the diocese. They must complete additional background checks every five years, according to Thursday’s statement.

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh has said “it was not until 2016” that he learned about the accused priests who had lived at Bea House, although The Spokesman-Review and other news outlets began publishing stories about the issue as early as 2004. McCulloh joined Gonzaga’s staff in 1990, became interim president in 2009 and took the position permanently in 2010.