Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota-based law firm which specializes in representing victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy members, released a report on Oct. 23 on alleged sexual assaults and misconduct among clergy in three Bay Area dioceses: Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco.
In the report, five alleged offenders were priests affiliated with USF at one point in their careers. The priests were assigned to the University sporadically over a span of 32 years, from 1949 to 1981.
The report does not include whether or not abuse occurred at USF specifically, since the five priests were assigned to a variety of parishes over the years.
“This report is intended to raise awareness about the important issue of clerical sexual abuse, provide the public with vital information including assignment histories and provide awareness to survivors,” the report stated.
The five priests accused of sexual assault and misconduct are Br. Leo Labbe, Fr. Donald J. McGuire, S.J., Fr. Thomas J. Sullivan, S.J., Fr. Thomas E. O’Rourke, S.J., Fr. Don D. Flickinger and Fr. Arthur A. Falvey, S.J. The list also included Fr. Paul F. Corkery, S.J., who was assigned to St. Ignatius College from 1923 to 1930, a school that was ultimately renamed USF the same year Fr. Corkery left.
Though some of the allegations have resulted in lawsuits and have been settled in court, the report emphasized that the allegations should not be considered legally substantiated, and there is still a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The information included in the law firm’s report is separate from the three Bay Area dioceses, since it was gathered from public accounts and sources.
But three of the USF priests have faced legal proceedings, according to the report. Fr. McGuire was criminally convicted in 2006 and 2008. A civil lawsuit was filed against Fr. Sullivan at an unknown date. And three separate lawsuits were filed against Fr. Flickinger, all of which were settled in 2013.
USF President Father Paul Fitzgerald said in an interview that the law firm’s report has not yet been reviewed to confirm the credibility of specific allegations. The Diocese of San Jose released a separate report accusing 15 priests of sexual abuse on Oct. 18, prior to the law firm’s release. However, the Diocese of Oakland and Archdiocese of San Francisco have not released separate reports.
Fitzgerald added that the Society of Jesus, the organizing order of Jesuits, implemented new protocols in the ‘80s, which included better screening of applicants, more training before and during work and a zero-tolerance policy for new cases of abuse.
“The key aspect of the culture that needs to change is the problem of clericalism,” Fitzgerald said. “When priests were put on a pedestal and given special treatment, this tempted a few of them to break the law, and for civic and ecclesial authorities ‘to look the other way,’ which is what was happening before 1985. But the cover-up by civil and religious authority figures allowed abusers to become repeat offenders; in my view, this is the heart of the scandal. Today, any abuse is promptly reported to the authorities, who take these matters extremely seriously.”
The Bay Area dioceses, according to the report, knew certain priests were “perpetrators that posed a significant danger to children,” and still kept crimes within the Church hidden. However, in 2003, the crimes became public.
“The California legislature opened a one-year, retroactive window for survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil claims against their perpetrator and the institution that covered up the sexual abuse,” the report stated. “As a result, the identities and histories of clerical sexual abusers were disclosed to the public. All three Bay Area dioceses were named in multiple lawsuits and employed sexually abusive priests.”
In a mass email sent out to the USF community after the Diocese of San Jose released the names of 15 priests accused of sexual abuse, Fitzgerald said that he hopes to maintain civility, respect and inclusivity at USF.
“Abuse of power is at once infuriating and disillusioning,” Fitzgerald said in the email. “We cannot become inured to these published reports and revelations, whether they occur within the Catholic Church, another organization or even our own community. We must all work to promote a culture that prevents abuse, hears and supports survivors, seeks transparency and advances reform. I write to assure you that I am committed to acting against all forms of abuse of power by any member of our community, including the Jesuits.”
Gabriel Greschler and Mardy Harding contributed to the reporting in this article.