Jesuits: Late Gonzaga President Involved in 1960s Sex Abuse Case

Former Gonzaga University President John Leary was involved in the sexual abuse of boys and young men in the 1960s, but the priest's actions were covered up by Jesuit officials, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus said Friday.

Leary, who died in 1993, led the Jesuit-run university in Spokane from 1961 to 1969. No details about the abuse or number of victims were immediately released.

"While today, stronger safeguards and clearer policies are in place, the Jesuits wish to publicly acknowledge the failures of our history and apologize to those who have suffered," the Rev. John D. Whitney of Portland, Ore., leader of the Oregon Province, said in a news release Friday. He called the cover up "uncharacteristic."

Whitney said the Jesuits discovered notes regarding Leary's actions while preparing court documents in other cases in recent weeks.

The allegations first surfaced in 1966, while Leary was Gonzaga's president. He denied them and remained in office, and no investigation was undertaken, the news release said.

In 1969, Spokane authorities raised new allegations against Leary and gave him 24 hours to leave the city or face arrest, according to the news release. The release said a leader of the Jesuits in the Northwest created a story that Leary was resigning for health reasons, and Leary left the city.

Leary went briefly to New York, then Massachusetts and was later assigned to positions "throughout the western United States," according to the release.

"I can only surmise that fear of scandal and of harm to Gonzaga University gripped those Jesuits," Whitney said. He said he knew of no accusations involving Leary after he left Gonzaga.

The revelation was another blow for Catholics in the Spokane area. The Catholic Diocese of Spokane, which does not control the university, has filed for bankruptcy protection two years ago because of lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse by priests.