Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Deceased former president of Gonzaga University accused of abuse

the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 14, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

On Friday, Sept. 8, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus announced that John Leary (right), a former president of Gonzaga University who died in 1993, “had been involved in the sexual abuse of boys and young men sometime during his tenure at Gonzaga University, where he served as president from 1961 to 1969.”

The announcement was made by Jesuit Father John Whitney, Provincial of the Oregon Province.

According to Father Whitney, allegations were first made in 1966. Leary denied the allegations “adamantly,” said Father Whitney.

More accusations were made in 1969, brought to the Jesuits “by Spokane civil authorities, who demanded” that Leary either leave Spokane or face arrest. “The Provincial and his advisors accepted this offer, creating an artificial scenario, in which Leary was to go to New York and resign for ‘health reasons,’” said Father Whitney.

Leary later was assigned to various positions throughout the western United States. No further accusations have arisen from those assignments, Father Whitney said.

Leary died in 1993 at the age of 75.

“Though I have dealt with various cases of past sexual abuse by Jesuits in my four years as Provincial, this is the only case in which I find such actions by the leadership of the Province, and I am deeply saddened by it,” said Father Whitney. “I can only surmise that fear of scandal and of harm to Gonzaga University gripped those Jesuits, and led them to accept the offer of the civil authorities.  Fear, however, is not an adequate excuse, and is not consistent with our faith and calling.”

In a separate statement, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, current president of GU, said that “My deepest sorrow and sympathy go out to the victims and their families. Gonzaga has a rich tradition of education, service and compassion, and we sincerely regret these actions.

“We recognize that this revelation will have significant impact on many people,” said Father Spitzer. “John Leary was highly regarded by many alumni, friends and other members of the community. We are very sorry for the sadness this announcement must cause.”

“I believe that it is of utmost importance that this information concerning John Leary be made public,” said Father Whitney, “so a pastoral healing can begin for those who may have been harmed, and so that all of us can continue to create a culture in which such conduct and fear no longer holds sway.”

Father Whitney concluded, “We will never fully know why some Jesuits failed to live the life to which they committed themselves. Likewise, we understand that prayer, repentance, counseling, and financial settlements for victims of abuse will never undo the past. Yet, acknowledgement by the Jesuits and prayer are the first steps. The survivors of abuse deserve our respect and our attention, our acknowledgement and our most sincere apology, without excuses. They deserve to know that we will do everything in our power to prevent such actions from happening again. On behalf of the Society of Jesus, and as a Jesuit, I offer that apology and I make that pledge.”

John Leary served as the 21st president of Gonzaga University. He was born in Spokane and died here Dec. 21, 1993.

He entered the Society of Jesus in 1938 and was ordained a priest in 1951. He held degrees from Gonzaga and from the Gregorian University in Rome.

He taught at GU and later served as the school’s dean of education and academic vice president.

Besides serving as the university’s president, he also became rector of the university’s Jesuit community in 1961.

President Lyndon B. Johnson named Leary to the Advisory Council on Developing Institutions, a body which assisted the U.S. Office of Education strengthen small colleges.

The Spokane County Bar Association honored him with the Liberty Bell Award in 1964.

After his time at Gonzaga, he taught at Utah State University in Logan, Utah; vice president of university relations at Santa Clara University; founded, and was first president, of New College of California, Sausalito; and founded Old College in Reno, Nev., in 1980. That school closed in 1985.

He spent a year as director of the Oregon Province’s Jesuit Seminary and Mission Bureau in Portland, Ore., and retired to the Jesuits’ Regis Community in Spokane in 1993.

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