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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Joseph C. Fortier: Sex abuse scandal unfairly targets some Jesuits

By Joseph C. Fortier and Ph.D. Society of Jesus

I am writing in response to several recent articles in The Spokesman-Review concerning the Rev. Frank Case’s and the Rev. Patrick Lee’s handling of sexual criminal predators. An article on Northwest News Network, “Jesuits sent priests accused of sexual abuse to retire on Gonzaga campus,” is referred to in those articles.

The Revs. Jim Poole and Jim Jacobson are now recognized by the Society of Jesus, and many others – not least their victims – as seriously sick men who committed monstrous crimes against precious people the Jesuits were and are committed to serving. They not only created unbearable suffering in those people, but deeply betrayed the Jesuits, who are also their victims. Sick individuals who perpetrate these sorts of evils on others are, as with any evil, ingenuous at lying, at hiding in the darkness. Some in authority have been accomplices, motivated to protect institutional reputations rather than to practice pastoral care. However, others also in positions of responsibility whose names have been smeared are genuinely innocent. There are many victims in these stories.

Among the victims in this story are the Revs. Case and Lee, as I will demonstrate.

As stated in the Northwest News article, Poole victimized Alaskan women and girls. Finally, in 1988, this came to the surface after two brave women wrote letters to the bishop of the Fairbanks Diocese about Poole’s conduct. In 1989, as was noted in the Northwest News article, Case, Oregon Province provincial from 1986-1990, endorsed Poole as chaplain at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. However, the article failed to clarify how much Case knew at this time. The false presumption promoted in the article was that Case was aware of the history of Poole’s pathology before the Poole endorsement. The investigators confused the timeline of events, and blurred the fact that Case green-lighted the Poole hire at Tacoma before Poole’s crimes came to light outside Alaska. The investigators admit that the Alaskan bishop did not inform provincials about Poole’s misdeeds until well after Case’s tenure as provincial (in 1997 and 1998). The URLs for those letters can be found in the Northwest News article.

The Northwest News article attempts to accuse Case of lying about what he knew in 1989 when he gave his 2008 deposition. The deposition was given 18 years after his decision to recommend, and eight years before the evidence was submitted to superiors outside Alaska. A careful reading of the article shows that their evidence is a bogus attempt to pull the wool over their readers’ eyes by misleading them to presume that Case lied. The technique was to twist around the order of events as described above.

It is interesting that the article in Northwest News also used the words of Poole, recognized as having been criminally sick, as a credible witness about his reported freedom to roam around campus while he was under house arrest. Part of Poole’s modus operandi in assaulting Alaskan women and girls for so many years was his expertise at lying and hiding. Using anything he said as persuasive evidence for anything, including that the Jesuits were not strictly conscientious about these men’s permanent house arrest, is certainly grasping at straws. This was just as likely to have been a way to “get” the provincials and others who were responsible for the public’s safety.

Personally, I wish that Poole had been turned in and spent lots of time in prison. But Oregon Province Jesuit provincials such as the Revs. Lee and John Whitney felt a need to balance care for Jesuits under them with strict concern for the public safety. Given the cunning and deceit that they dealt with in some quarters, they did an excellent job.

It is deeply sad for me and for many others who know and respect Case and Lee that they should have suffered this injustice and humiliation.

Joseph Fortier is a Jesuit who works with the Colville Confederated Tribes as a stream/river biomonitoring entomologist.

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