What Is Jesuit Abuse?
Jesuit abuse refers to the sexual abuse of a minor or non-consenting person by a member of the Society of Jesus religious order. Hundreds of members, called Jesuits, have been credibly accused of abuse. Allegations against Jesuits date back to at least the 1950s.
Jesuits are part of an educational tradition dating back hundreds of years. There are Jesuit colleges, prep schools and high schools throughout the United States. Jesuits at these schools perform educational, administrative and spiritual roles. Many have misused their authority to sexually abuse students.
What Is the Difference Between a Jesuit and a Regular Priest?
Differences exist between a religious order priest, like a Jesuit, and a “regular,” or diocesan, priest. Both are Catholic clergy members, but they carry out different functions.
- Role of diocesan priests: Diocesan priests run parishes and serve the needs of their members. Their duties include performing Mass and administering sacraments. The diocesan bishop assigns the priest to a parish.
- Role of religious order priests: Religious order priests, like the Jesuits, do a particular job within a community. These jobs, also called missions, may include education, working with the poor and other activities. The superior of the order determines where and how the priest will carry out their mission.
Jesuit school abuse is part of a much larger abuse problem within the Catholic Church. Since the early 2000s, reports of widespread clergy abuse dating back decades have resulted in an ongoing scandal.
Thousands of people file clergy sexual abuse allegations every year. Alleged abusers include diocesan and religious order priests. Other religious order priests, besides the Jesuits, have also faced abuse accusations. For example, former students have reported abuse at Franciscan-run schools.
Jesuit Sexual Abuse at Colleges and Universities
The Jesuits currently run 28 colleges and universities in the United States. These schools range from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges. Jesuits credibly accused of abuse have worked at many of these schools, including:
- Boston College
- Canisius College
- College of the Holy Cross
- Fairfield University
- Fordham University
- Georgetown University
- Le Moyne College
- Loyola University (Baltimore, MD)
- Saint Joseph’s University (Philadelphia, PA)
- Saint Louis University
- Saint Peter’s University
Victims may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the Jesuit college or university where their abuse occurred. Lawsuits may result in compensation for victims whose cases are not time-barred by a state’s statutes of limitations (SOLs). Some states, like New York, have short-term exceptions to their SOLs for sexual abuse victims.
A statute of limitations is a type of law that defines a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction and intended legal action (i.e., criminal charges versus a civil claim).
No matter when the abuse happened, victims can still report the incident. Reporting abuse may lead to criminal investigations against abusers.
Jesuit abuse victims can discuss legal options with an experienced abuse lawsuit attorney.
Jesuit Sexual Abuse at High Schools and Preparatory Schools
Many Jesuits credibly accused of abusing minors worked at Jesuit high schools. The Jesuits run over 60 high schools and college preparatory schools throughout the United States. Among the accused are administrators and teachers. Jesuit high schools and preparatory schools with prominent abuse scandals include:
- Boston College High School
- Canisius High School
- Fordham Preparatory School
- Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas
- McQuaid Jesuit
- University of Detroit Jesuit High School
Victims who were abused by Jesuits as minors may be able to file a lawsuit against the school where their abuse occurred. Different states have their own rules and provisions for filing an abuse lawsuit.
Some states have created exceptions to filing deadlines for past childhood abuse cases. Others, like Maine, do not have any deadlines for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits. Victims abused as children can talk to an experienced abuse lawyer to explore their compensation options.
Search Jesuit Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse
Our team at AbuseLawsuit.com has compiled a nationwide list of abusive priests and clergy members. For your convenience, you can search the list of priests accused of abuse by diocese, state or name.
Prominent Jesuit Abuse Scandals
Jesuit abuse has been getting more attention in recent decades, and several prominent abuse scandals have occurred at Jesuit schools. In fact, some Jesuit abuse allegations date back to at least the 1950s. The Jesuit scandal is part of a larger trend of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Thousands of Catholic priests in the United States have faced abuse allegations.
It is difficult to determine exactly how many Jesuits have sexually abused students because many victims may not have reported their abuse. The Catholic Church has also engaged in cover-ups of abuse. The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team’s reporting and other investigations have detailed these cover-ups. According to ProPublica, the Jesuits have the most credible abuse allegations of any Catholic order.
Jesuit Abuse at Georgetown University
Jesuits associated with Georgetown University have been accused of sexual abuse. A 2019 investigation by The Hoya found 14 priests, most of them Jesuits, credibly or plausibly accused of abuse. All of these priests were affiliated with Georgetown at some point, working both as faculty and in administration.
A former provost and executive vice president of Georgetown has also been accused of abuse. The now-deceased J. Donald Freeze was provost from 1979 to 1991. Former students have accused Freeze of non-consensual sexual behavior, including kissing and groping. In 2021, the school acknowledged the existence of abuse allegations against Freeze.
Jesuit Abuse at Boston College High School
Boston College High School is a college preparatory school with a history of priest abuse allegations. In 2003, more than a dozen former students sued the school and the Society of Jesus. They claimed that Rev. James Talbot, who taught and coached at the school, molested them. These students ultimately received a $5.2 million settlement.
In 2005, Rev. Talbot pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two students during wrestling practice. He served six years in jail.
Talbot worked at Boston College High School in the 1970s. In 1980, he was transferred to Cheverus High School in Maine because of abuse allegations. He was only removed from his position at Cheverus in 1998, after his first alleged victim came forward.
Another former student claimed a teacher, Rev. Francis J. McManus, molested him in the early 1980s. This student received a $600,000 settlement.
Jesuit Abuse at Fordham University and Fordham Preparatory School
In 2019, Fordham released a statement about Jesuit sexual abuse. It identified nine priests with ties to the Fordham community who were credibly accused of sexual assault. These priests had associations with Fordham University and Fordham Preparatory School.
One Jesuit, Peter Conroy, was a theology teacher at Fordham University between stints at Canisius. In 2002, he was removed from Canisius College after allegations of abuse during his time at Fordham surfaced.
Another priest, Eugene O’Brien, worked at both the prep school and the university between the 1950s and 1990s. In 1977, the Jesuits settled a lawsuit filed by a Fordham Prep student. O’Brien was not relieved of his official duties until 2002.
Jesuit Abuse at Saint Louis University
In February 2023, two teachers at Saint Louis University (SLU) were added to the list of Jesuits with credible sexual abuse claims against them: the late Father Daniel Campbell and Father David V. Meconi. This followed a 2022 investigation of claims they abused students and minors at SLU.
Allegations of their abuse occurred decades apart, while both men taught at SLU. Campbell was a faculty member in the 1950s. The province estimates credible allegations of abuse against Campbell span from 1955 to 1959. Meconi became a faculty member in 2007 and left in 2021. The credible allegations of abuse against Meconi span from 2015 to 2016.
Campbell passed away in November 1986. According to the Society of Jesus, Meconi left both the priesthood and the Jesuits’ USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province in 2023.
Jesuit Abuse at University of Detroit Jesuit High School
In 2011 and 2014, a Jesuit priest and former chemistry teacher, Richard James Kurtz, faced various sexual abuse legal charges. From 1970 to 2001, he worked at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School (U of D), an all-boys school. Both sets of legal charges allege abuse of students during his tenure.
In 2011, charges alleged Father Richard Kurtz molested a U of D student on a trip in 2001 to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Allegations of this sexual abuse arose that year and he was fired as a result. But he was not arrested until a decade later in Chicago. In 2012, he pleaded guilty, receiving a 10-year-to-life term of supervised probation.
In 2014, he faced new charges of producing, possessing and transporting child pornography. The charges alleged that from 1998 to 1999, Kurtz secretly filmed hockey players changing in the U of D locker room. He was found guilty and received a 12-year prison sentence.
Jesuit Abuse Outside of Schools
This religious order’s sexual abuse scandals are not limited to students of Jesuit schools. In 2023, evidence emerged that two separate priests had sexually abused victims for decades.
Marko Ivan Rupnik was exposed for abusing adult women. For decades he has been a prominent Jesuit priest and mosaic artist. Further claims of his abuse may still come to light.
Alfonso “Pica” Pedrajas, who passed away in 2009, incriminated himself in his personal diary. In its pages, he had recounted more than 85 sexual abuses he committed. This investigation is still ongoing.
Jesuit Abuse by Father Marko Ivan Rupnik
In 2023, a famous mosaic artist was expelled from the Society of Jesus for sexually abusing women. The artist, Marko Ivan Rupnik, had been celebrated in the Catholic Church for decades. His mosaics decorate the Vatican, among many other churches and basilicas worldwide.
Allegations of his sexual abuse surfaced in 2020. By 2022, sexual abuse claims from 26 women had come to light. The earliest abuse allegation dates back to 1994. The victim is a former nun, who published public testimony in 2020 exposing his years of manipulation and abuse. She says the church dismissed her many attempts to turn him in and protected him instead.
As his fame grew and he gained an international following, he abused other sisters. Later in 2020, nine additional women came forward about spiritual/sexual abuse at his hands.
In 2022, 15 people answered the Jesuits’ invitation to come forward with abuse claims against Rupnik. The Jesuits then asked Rupnik to respond, but he refused. Ultimately they proceeded with his resignation from the Society of Jesus. As of 2023, no legal charges had been filed against him.
Jesuit Abuse by Father Alfonso “Pica” Pedrajas
In 2023, the diary of Alfonso “Pica” Pedrajas was made public, exposing him as a serial sexual abuser. He had chronicled at least 85 abuses of minors he committed over the course of many years. Reports claim his diary also involves other Jesuit priests and superiors. The diary was discovered more than 10 years ago, but the investigation is still ongoing.
After Pedrajas’ death in 2009, his nephew found the 383-page diary on the priest’s computer. His nephew spent years bringing it to various authorities’ attention. But each effort resulted in little action because of loopholes and apparent lack of concern. Eventually, he reached out to a newspaper, which published the story in 2023.
Once the story was published, the Society of Jesus began investigating. This resulted in the removal of eight priests because of suspicions of a cover-up. Then, the Society of Jesus claims it sent the diary directly to the Bolivian attorney general’s office.
When the prosecutor in Bolivia opened the sealed diary, it was found incomplete. Various pages appeared to have been edited or omitted. Evidence points to the Society of Jesus first sending the diary to the Vatican where it was then sent to the general curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome. Despite this potential cover-up, the investigation continues.
Jesuit Priest Abuse Lawsuits
Former students have filed successful abuse lawsuits against Jesuit schools and the Society of Jesus. Lawsuits may result in verdicts or settlements, which can provide financial compensation to abuse victims.
Examples of Jesuit sex abuse lawsuits include:
- Boston College High School: In 2003, a group of former students received a $5.2 million settlement after suing their school and the Society of Jesus. These students alleged abuse by a Jesuit coach and teacher who later served jail time for abusing students.
- Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas: In 2022, former students settled with a Dallas prep school after filing an abuse lawsuit. They filed the lawsuit after the school released a list of abuse allegations in 2018, which named 11 priests credibly accused of sexually assaulting minors. The settlement amount has not been disclosed.
- Loyola Academy: In 2013, Jesuit officials in Chicago settled a lawsuit against Donald J. McGuire for $19.6 million. At the time of the settlement, McGuire was already serving a jail sentence for sexually abusing a young man. As a priest, McGuire had connections to several schools, including Loyola Academy in Wisconsin. A separate conviction in 2006 involved two Loyola students who McGuire molested.
- Pacific Northwest schools: In 2011, the Society of Jesus agreed to pay $166 million to settle abuse claims. Hundreds of students, mostly Native Americans and Native Alaskans, came forward with allegations against Jesuit priests.
Jesuit school abuse victims can talk to an experienced abuse lawyer about their legal options. A lawyer can organize a case and help meet any filing deadlines. Each state has different deadlines for filing, which are outlined in their SOLs.
For people abused when they were 18 or older, some states have passed laws allowing victims to file no matter how long ago the abuse happened. For example, New York currently has a one-year “look back” window for survivors abused as adults. Until November 24, 2023, victims can file abuse lawsuits regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Maine and Vermont do not have SOLs for child sexual abuse. Without SOLs, a person who was abused as a child can file a lawsuit no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
A lawyer can help Jesuit abuse victims explore filing options to help them bring lawsuits against their abusers. People abused by Jesuits as adults or children may be able to file a lawsuit even if the abuse happened a long time ago. A successful lawsuit can result in financial compensation for the victim.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many Jesuit priests have been accused of abuse?
Can you sue a Jesuit priest for abuse?
Yes, you can sue a Jesuit priest for abuse. However, abuse victims often sue the school where the abuse took place or the Society of Jesus, the order that Jesuits are members of. Suing the school or the order may be an option if the abuser is deceased or unable to provide adequate financial compensation.
How long do you have to sue for Jesuit priest sexual abuse?
Each state has different rules and exceptions for how long a victim has to sue an abuser. These rules are outlined in states’ SOLs. Different rules may apply to people abused as adults or children. For example, New York currently allows people abused as adults to file a lawsuit regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. This expanded time frame follows a similar provision for New York victims abused as a child, which has since expired.
Is suing a Jesuit priest the same thing as suing a Catholic Church?
A lawsuit against a Jesuit is a lawsuit against the Catholic Church. Jesuits are a religious order within Catholicism. They function differently than “regular priests,” also known as diocesan priests. Regular priests run parishes and serve the needs of their members, performing Mass and administering sacraments. Religious order priests are assigned to a specific mission within a community, like education.
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Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.
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