MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

After the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church five years ago, the church promised zero tolerance pf priests accused of sex abuse. But it appears the Jesuits in Chicago failed in the case of one recently convicted priest.

Donald McGuire abused boys for nearly 40 years, and the documents showed that the Jesuits knew about it for decades.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Father McGuire sexually abused two teenage boys in the 1960s. That much is public record. He was convicted in a criminal trial last year.

As recently as nine weeks ago, Jesuit leaders insisted that they had no knowledge of any other abuse by the renowned priest. But documents show leaders were alerted many times over the past 38 years, even as criminal and civil cases were being brought. So, what happened to those records?

Mr. MARC PEARLMAN (Lawyer): They either destroyed documents relevant to criminal activity or they lied.

HAGERTY: Attorney Marc Pearlman has copies of 25 documents from families of alleged victims. They indicate McGuire had sexual relationships with seven teenage boys between 1969 and 2004. They include letters by family members to top Jesuit leaders and letters from Jesuit leaders discussing the problem. Pearlman says because the Jesuits failed to act after the first report, a sexual predator has had free access to young men for nearly 40 years.

Edward Schmidt, the provincial or leader of the Jesuits in Chicago, says they were not protecting McGuire.

Father EDWARD SCHMIDT (Head, Society of Jesus Chicago Province): We were treating him as a member of the Jesuit order. We were proceeding as though he were a good person, until we came - became aware of some of these issues that have now become public. Were we trying to protect him from authorities? Not in any way.

HAGERTY: Until very recently, Donald McGuire was one of the most prominent Jesuits of his day. In 1983, he became the spiritual director of Mother Teresa's organization and her confessor. He led Ignatian retreats, calling people, as he did in this sermon in the mid-1990s, to an intimate relationship with God.

Mr. DONALD McGUIRE (Former Jesuit Priest): Reach in and let God's power accomplish in us what he wants to accomplish. What does he want to accomplish? Holiness. Holiness.

HAGERTY: As he traveled the world, the priest often brought a teenage boy with him as an intern, and devout Catholic families jumped at the privilege.

The first signs of trouble surfaced in 1969, in a case that would eventually see him criminally convicted. John Doe 84 was 14, a freshman at Loyola Academy near Chicago, when he met Father McGuire. The young priest was assigned to be his counselor and soon persuaded the teenager and his father to let him board at the school. McGuire said the boy would sleep in a nearby room. But the man said in a phone interview, McGuire immediately moved him to his own room.

JOHN DOE (Priest): There's only one bed inside of the room, so sleeping quarters were to sleep in the same bed together. And the abuse turned physical.

HAGERTY: Pretty soon?

Mr. DOE: Yes.

HAGERTY: As recently as two years ago, the Jesuits said they had no knowledge of this. But documents suggest they did. John Doe 84 told his parish priest what happened. The priest wrote the Jesuits running the school, and Pearlman has a copy of that letter. John Doe 84 said in 1969, the Jesuits told him that they would take care of McGuire. They put him on sabbatical, and he did not return to the school. But three years later, John Doe 84 was walking down the street...

Mr. DOE: And ran smack-dab into Father McGuire toting a little boy with him in the ages of, like, 13, 14 years old.

HAGERTY: Documents show that McGuire had a pattern. He would persuade a family to let their teenage son intern with him, and quickly move the boy into his room. And then, according to one of the alleged victims who asked his name not be used, McGuire would give the boy a sexual education using the sacred rite of confession.

Unidentified Man: We underwent something called a general confession, whereby you just lay out your sins and you - and the priest will help you and talk you through it, maybe give you some guidelines for the future. And his guidelines was to teach me about sex.

HAGERTY: With naked showers, massage, pornography. Between 1999 and 2002, he says he traveled with McGuire every summer, Easter and Christmas, and lived with him at a residence with other Jesuit priests.

Unidentified Man: How could they not know? I was within his room almost all the time. The food was being brought in. His secretary would drop me off. How can you not know?

Fr. SCHMIDT: It's a good question.

HAGERTY: Father Edward Schmidt.

Fr. SCHMIDT: But he just had his own ways of doing things. He could sneak people around the school late at night. I - it does seem very difficult, but I can believe that no other Jesuit knew about it.

HAGERTY: In the summer of 2003, John Doe 84 and another man, who was also abused in the 1960s, sued McGuire and the Jesuits. That suit led to a criminal case against the priest in Wisconsin, where McGuire had taken the two teenagers, separately, on weekend trips.

The district attorney there told me he could not subpoena documents across state lines. So he asked the Jesuits if they had any records that would indicate McGuire had abused any boy since the late 1960s. He said, quote, "I naively relied on their goodness."

The Jesuits said they had nothing.

Attorney Marc Pearlman says they did.

Mr. PEARLMAN: The statement by the Jesuits to the D.A. in Wisconsin is just -there's no other way to characterize it but a boldface lie. We now have the documents that show they had a great deal of material.

HAGERTY: Here's a sample. 1969, John Doe 84's parish priest writes the president of Jesuit Loyola Academy that McGuire was a pervert.

1993, the father of a 16-year-old writes the two senior Jesuits about explicit sexual acts and pornography. The Jesuit leader writes back, saying that McGuire is being sent to a treatment center. And yet, once McGuire is out, he returns to his ministry and his young boys.

2000, within days of each other, two families write Jesuit leaders about McGuire's sexual behavior.

Marc Pearlman says they were begging the Jesuits to investigate.

Mr. PEARLMAN: And the Jesuits who wrote back to them and said, initially, we're looking into it, but then, pretty much for the next three years, told them that how they're investigating and what they're doing is none of the parents' business.

HAGERTY: Or, as the Jesuit handling the case wrote, quote, "we would hope that you would trust us to act appropriately."

Letters go back and forth until 2003, when the first civil lawsuit is filed. Eventually, McGuire was convicted of sexual assault. He's been sentenced to seven years in prison and is out pending appeal.

Provincial Edward Schmidt admits they missed red flags.

Fr. SCHMIDT: There's lots of things that we should have done differently. We had directives in place. We could have been stronger in managing him, but we were not. I wish we had been.

HAGERTY: As to those documents and Pearlman's allegations that the Jesuits lied or destroyed them, Schmidt says it's a mystery. The Jesuits recently hired a former FBI agent to scour McGuire's files. The agent told me they've already found allegations going back to 1993.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

SIEGEL: To see documents about McGuire, go to npr.org.

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