May 25, 2011
The conservative Catholic family lived on a quiet cul-de-sac in Walnut Creek and took pains to observe the traditions of a church racked by social change. Their lives appeared driven by the famous motivational phrase of Saint Ignatius, "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" — for the greater glory of God. It was the same motto that ostensibly guided the Jesuit priest, Donald McGuire, to whom they turned for spiritual guidance.
Then, in 1993, they learned that McGuire had done unthinkable things with their 16-year-old son, Charles, who traveled with him as his personal assistant. The boy and the priest had allegedly looked at pornographic magazines, masturbated, and taken showers together. The family took this devastating news to an esteemed San Francisco priest, Joseph Fessio, who, like McGuire, had once been a teacher at the University of San Francisco.
Fessio runs the Ignatius Press, a Catholic publishing house based in the Sunset District that is the primary English-language publisher of the pope's writings. He and McGuire shared a reputation for doctrinal orthodoxy. McGuire, for his part, was a cleric of worldwide renown, functioning as adviser and confessor to Mother Teresa. While family members considered reporting the abuse to secular authorities, Fessio urged them to stay quiet until he could confer with Jesuit higher-ups.
Confronted with the allegations, McGuire, a famously manipulative man known both for his charm and periodic rages, denied Charles's accusations or made excuses. His Jesuit bosses in Chicago, where McGuire was technically based, ordered him to undergo a residential treatment program at a psychiatric hospital for priests. In about seven months, McGuire was released and returned to active ministry. He continued to prey on other children for the next nine years.
McGuire, who was officially defrocked by the church in 2008, is serving a federal prison sentence stemming from his acts of child molestation. In 2009, SF Weekly published a story revealing his extensive ties to families and institutions in the Bay Area. But not until last month did newly released court documents in a lawsuit against the Jesuits reveal the full extent to which his colleagues and bosses were aware of his highly questionable relationships with teenage boys.
Despite this knowledge, fellow priests did not report McGuire's behavior outside the Church. In California, that silence may, at times, have amounted to a violation of state law, which requires professionals who work with children to immediately report suspected child abuse to police or child welfare workers.
"It boggles the mind how you could have something so well documented and nobody could act on it," says Mark, a second Walnut Creek man who asserts he was molested by McGuire and is part of the lawsuit filed in Illinois against the Jesuits' Chicago Province. He joins three others — Charles, George, and Dominick — in the ranks of alleged victims who were abused by McGuire in the Bay Area or reported their abuse to local clergy. Only Mark and Dominick have taken legal action against the church. (SF Weekly is identifying three of the men by pseudonyms because they are victims of childhood sexual abuse whose names have never been made public. The fourth victim has already been identified in federal court proceedings by his real first name, Dominick, though his last name has not been disclosed.)
The trail of quiet complicity leads from San Francisco to unexpectedly high levels. Among the revelations in the documents is that John Hardon, a now-deceased Jesuit priest who is being formally considered for sainthood by the Vatican, advocated on McGuire's behalf after he was caught allegedly molesting one Bay Area boy, and sought to downplay the significance of McGuire's sexual abuse. Records suggest Hardon's involvement might have led to McGuire's premature emergence from psychiatric treatment and resumption of ministerial duties.
Some of McGuire's colleagues maintain they acted appropriately and according to guidelines accepted in church culture at the time. "As soon as I knew of any allegation, I reported it to the proper [church] authorities. I didn't report it to the police, but I don't think I should have reported it to the police," Fessio says. "I think it's the proper way to do things. There are a lot of false allegations going around. It can destroy a man's life and reputation."
McGuire's case sounds many of the same themes as other priestly abuse scandals that have convulsed the Catholic church over the past decade. Yet experts say he stands out, both in the harm he did to families and the extremely detailed paper trail left behind. The latter factor can be attributed largely to McGuire's identity as a Jesuit.
Founded by the soldier turned saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, the Society of Jesus, as it is officially called, is organized under a rigid, quasimilitaristic order. Its administrators record their actions and conversations with the diligence of government bureaucrats. As a result, phone conversations, correspondence, and general reflections on McGuire were often preserved in written form, though the Jesuits initially denied they had the information when a criminal investigation of his actions began in 2003.
What those documents portray is a criminal career marked not only by the destruction of many young lives but by a particularly twisted modus operandi. McGuire seemed to revel in the elaborate torment of his victims, perverting the sacraments into vehicles of abuse and turning vulnerable boys against their parents. One of his more notorious practices was to coax admissions of masturbation out of his victims under seal of confession — and then massage their genitals as part of the process of penance.
"If I had to make a Top Five list [of predator priests], Donald McGuire would be number one," says Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who performs investigations on behalf of abuse victims suing the Catholic Church. "He truly is the Hannibal Lecter of the clerical world. He did more psychological and physical damage to children than anyone else. And what makes it worse is that the Jesuits knew about it, and did nothing."
On Feb. 11, 2009, McGuire — an ailing 78-year-old who had already been stripped of priestly office — was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. He had been tried and convicted in the Northern District of Illinois for transporting an adolescent boy across state lines in 2000 for the purpose of sexually abusing him.
"I want any such person to know the system of justice and this judge personally finds it absolutely abhorrent," Pallmeyer said. McGuire is serving his sentence at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., and the Jesuits are facing a lawsuit from multiple victims, spread across the country, who claim the order's negligence enabled his crimes.
Complaints about McGuire date to the first years after his ordination, when he traveled in Europe. In a December 1964 letter, Jesuits in Austria wrote to their counterparts in Illinois that "rumors and suspicions arose" because McGuire "has much relations with several boys." Police in the Austrian city of Innsbruck went so far as to question one boy about his relationship with the American priest. Despite these warning signs, McGuire was assigned upon his return to the U.S. to teach at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit high school in Wilmette, Ill.
He molested at least two boys there, whose cases formed the basis for his first criminal conviction in 2006 in a Wisconsin state court. In 1970, McGuire was abruptly fired. In a letter to officials in the Chicago Province of the Jesuits, Loyola Academy president John Reinke offered a litany of complaints about McGuire, including his habit of frequently striking students and allowing others to stay overnight in his office. "His presence here, in short, has become positively destructive and corrosive," Reinke wrote. "There is little hope of effecting any change. He cannot be corrected."
The Jesuits' response was to reassign McGuire to USF. No concrete abuse claims have been made public from his time at the university between 1976 and 1980, but there is some indication that his relationships with college students came under scrutiny. In May 1981, then-dean David Harnett wrote to the California Province of the Jesuits stating that McGuire had engaged in "highly questionable acts," among them unspecified "interactions with a student." Harnett did not respond to calls seeking comment. In 2009, he said he did not recall writing the letter about McGuire or the circumstances of the priest's departure.
James Torrens was the rector, or religious supervisor, of the Jesuit community at USF during McGuire's tenure. In a telephone interview from Fresno, where he is now posted, Torrens said the decision to get rid of the priest was not related to abuse allegations. Bill Wood, a Los Gatos-based Jesuit who in the 1980s was the head of education in the California Province, said McGuire's "maniacal behavior" around his colleagues, rather than suspicions of sexual improprieties, led to his ouster. "He would go into dramatic, scary explosions," he recalls.
Jesuits have historically served two functions in the Catholic Church: teaching and acting as missionaries in inhospitable locations. With his failed postings to Loyola Academy and USF, McGuire had shown himself incapable of fitting into the academic settings for which he had been trained. His response was to create a new role for himself that proved especially well-suited to his criminal career.
He became a director of spiritual retreats for families. In these overnight sessions, based on Saint Ignatius' seminal mystic text, the Spiritual Exercises, McGuire operated without supervision and wielded near-absolute authority over participants. It was an apt means of grooming young abuse victims, who were forced to spend extensive time with the priest alone as they confessed their sins.
In February 1991, Robert Wild, head of the Chicago Province, received a phone call from Ricardo Palacio, a priest in the Brothers of the Christian Schools, an order of religious educators. Palacio was at a spiritual retreat for students in the idyllic Napa Valley town of St. Helena. McGuire was also there, traveling with George, a 16-year-old boy from Anchorage, Alaska.
According to a memo prepared by Wild, Palacio "became quite suspicious of this whole arrangement and began to check up a little about it." He approached McGuire's bedroom, and, as he prepared to knock, heard "giggling" inside. Silence fell after Palacio rapped on the door. The boy answered, his hair tousled and shirt untucked. Pushing past him, Palacio found McGuire lying on his bed, fully clothed.
Wild noted in his memo that the incident was "at least very imprudent, perhaps much more serious." Yet rather than investigating this complaint thoroughly, Wild — who is now president of Marquette University in Milwaukee — decided to issue a set of "guidelines" governing McGuire's interactions with minors. "I ask that you not travel on any overnight trip with any boy or girl under the age of 18 and preferably even under the age of 21," he wrote to the priest. Wild also requested that any future contact with George be limited to when his parents were present.
As Wild put it when deposed in the pending lawsuit against the Jesuits, with no apparent sense of irony, the accusation was "ambiguous, yes, but serious ... we didn't have fire, but we had smoke." Through his assistant at Marquette, Wild declined to comment for this story.
George could not be reached for comment. His mother, speaking by telephone from Alaska, declined to talk about McGuire. "This has been a very traumatic thing for our family," she said.
Two years later, the Jesuits began to grasp the scope of the problem McGuire posed. That's when Charles's family first turned to the order for help. The incident would lead to the most extensive paper trail of any of the allegations against McGuire until a criminal investigation into his conduct began 10 years later. It was also illustrative of how the Jesuits chose to manage their wayward priest.
In April 1993, Francis Daly, socius, or second-in-command, of the Chicago Province, received a call from California. Fessio, the San Francisco priest, told him that he had been approached by a lawyer who was a close friend of a devout Catholic man in Walnut Creek. The attorney reported that McGuire had had inappropriate contact with the man's 16-year-old son, Charles, while on a trip to Russia.
McGuire, according to Daly's memo on the conversation, was "accompanied by some young men, one of whom he was taking showers with and reading hard pornography together. They also masturbated, but McGuire may not have touched the young man." The memo noted, "Joe [Fessio] asked [the lawyer] to keep this quiet until he could represent this to McGuire's provincial."
Charles's father had consulted the attorney along with several other local Catholic men, including Fran Crotty, an administrator at the Kolbe Academy, a private Catholic school in Napa. In a subsequent phone conversation the lawyer, speaking on behalf of this group, told Daly more. According to Charles, McGuire had purchased "explicit pornography, worse than Playboy" and looked at it with the boy "so that [Charles] could learn more about his body." Daly's memo stated that "if no action were begun in a few weeks," Charles's family members "are prepared to go to civil authorities. ... However, they prefer to keep it quiet and allow McGuire to keep his reputation if he goes for help."
McGuire, when confronted by his Jesuit bosses in Chicago, denied or mitigated the allegations. In a manner that would become characteristic of his responses to abuse complaints, he tried to turn attention away from himself and attack his accusers. He called Charles's father "tyrannical" and "unbalanced" and asserted that the boy was "very depressed and deals with his depression through sex," according to Jesuit records.
McGuire acknowledged he was "tolerant" of Charles reading porn, but denied that he had purchased it. No showering together had taken place, he said, although he allowed the boy to wash his foot, which he said was difficult to reach. McGuire said they stayed in the same room, but claimed the door was left open. He protested that he was not violating his 1991 restrictions on traveling with minors because he and Charles were staying at religious residences in the company of other people.
In a May 1993 letter to Brad Schaeffer, head of the Chicago Province, Charles's father revealed further details. McGuire had bought "skimpy sexy briefs" for the boy. He had asked the boy to drive, though he did not yet have a license, and had introduced him to alcohol. Just the past month, Charles's father said, the priest had called from San Francisco demanding that Charles come to the city for 10 days to stay with him. When Charles's parents refused, McGuire flew into a rage, revealing what he said was information the boy had told him in confession. It is unclear from the records what McGuire shared, though Charles's father described it as a "temptation" for which McGuire prescribed urgent spiritual guidance. This alleged violation of the confessional seal was an extremely rare and serious offense for a priest, bringing with it potential excommunication.
In June, Charles's father, dissatisfied with the Jesuits' response, asked that the Chicago Province seek out other possible victims. This request was reiterated in another letter sent by the family's lawyer acquaintance in early July. "We will proceed on our own if we do not feel that there is a permanent resolution," the lawyer wrote, implying a threat of legal action.
In a July memo, Daly recorded another conversation with Charles's father; it was clear that the socius' patience was wearing thin. "Although these folks seem pleasant, they are quite controlling," Daly complained, describing them as "religious legalists." Beyond the interview with McGuire, there is no evidence that the Jesuits sought to independently verify Charles's allegations of sex abuse or identify other victims.
Despite this lassitude, McGuire was directed to get the "help" Charles's family had advocated. Shortly after the original complaint was delivered by Fessio, the Jesuits ordered McGuire to undergo a psychological evaluation and, later, a residential treatment program. Remarkably, McGuire was permitted to perform a retreat in Phoenix in the interim, with the proviso that he tell his superior that a complaint had been filed against him and that he should not be in the presence of minors unsupervised.
Daly and Schaeffer did not return calls for this story. The Chicago Province responded to questions about McGuire with a statement from current Provincial Timothy Kesicki.
"We are painfully aware that in the past we did not do enough to prevent abuse of children and vulnerable adults, and that we made mistakes by thinking that restrictive measures we undertook with regard to Donald McGuire would be effective," Kesicki said in the statement. "More important, we failed to listen to those who came forward and to meet their courage in dealing with Donald McGuire as we should have." Province spokesman Jeremy Langford said Jesuit officials could not address specific questions about McGuire because of the ongoing litigation.
In the summer of 1993, as Charles's family was prodding the Jesuits to perform a full investigation of their complaint, McGuire arrived at Saint John Vianney Center, a psychiatric treatment facility for clergy situated on a green-lawned campus outside Philadelphia. He was promptly diagnosed by his care providers with "frotteurism," a sexual fetish with touching or rubbing one's hands and genitals against a nonconsenting partner, a condition doctors often ascribe to child molesters.
In another of Daly's detailed memos, this one recording the reports of McGuire's psychiatrist, the socius noted, "Don is beginning to disclose more and acknowledge showering together, looking at porno together." McGuire also admitted to his therapist, Dennis O'Hara, that "he has been close to 12-14 youngsters over the years." O'Hara, who no longer works at the center, said in a telephone interview that he did not remember McGuire, and would be unable to discuss his case even if he did, because of patient confidentiality.
Daly recorded this progress in September 1993. But McGuire's therapeutic program was about to take a turn. In November, McGuire was visited at Saint John Vianney by John Hardon, a laconic Jesuit whose rigid orthodoxy earned him the nickname "Father Hard On" among more easygoing priests, according to a former colleague. Like McGuire, he worked with Mother Teresa, the famous nun who established humanitarian convents throughout the world.
O'Hara saw Hardon's presence as an obstacle to McGuire's treatment. "Despite what John [Hardon] said about psychotherapy, he does not believe in it ... and does not see Don in need of this kind of treatment," O'Hara reported. "He sees Don more as a victim, which ... fed Don's denial." He described Hardon as an "advocate" for his troubled fellow priest. An internal summary of McGuire's history later created by the Jesuits describes a November 1993 letter Hardon wrote to the Chicago Province in which he "downplayed Don's very real sexual problems."
Hardon rose to prominence within the church before his death in 2000. He was close to Pope Paul VI, and consulted on the writing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summation of doctrine edited by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. In 2005, a formal inquiry was initiated into whether Hardon should be made a saint.
Robert McDermott, a priest from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is the "postulator," or chief researcher and advocate, for the cause of Hardon's canonization. He was not aware of the role Hardon played in the McGuire affair before SF Weekly provided him with documents detailing the late priest's involvement. McDermott said it is the closest Hardon has come to being implicated in a pedophilia scandal, though the record does not conclusively show how his actions influenced the Jesuits' handling of McGuire.
"They were both working for Mother Teresa. That might have been a common bond. But I don't know why he didn't take a harder line on this," McDermott says. "I'm a little puzzled at this, but beyond that, I don't know what to say."
McGuire left Saint John Vianney two months after Hardon's visit. In a January 1994 memo, Provincial Schaeffer wrote a resigned memo describing his "extremely difficult" debriefing with the returning priest. McGuire ranted about the constraints imposed on him at the hospital and assailed his superiors for not being more supportive in the face of Charles's allegations. "It is clear that the basics are not going to change here," Schaeffer wrote. "Don McGuire is going to try to continue to lead his life as independently as possible."
In hindsight, the prescience of McGuire's Jesuit superiors over the years would be darkly comic, had it not been linked to the physical and emotional havoc the priest wrought. Because McGuire, true to their predictions, did not change. Over the decade between his release from Saint John Vianney and the beginning of the first police investigation into his conduct in 2003, eight new allegations against him were lodged with the Chicago Province. The society's responses were consistently lackluster. In 1995, the Jesuits issued guidelines barring McGuire from traveling or spending the night with anyone under the age of 21. In 2001, the permissible minimum age was raised to 30.
In the later stages of McGuire's career, it appears that the priests who had known him for decades were once again alerted to his unsettling behavior. Fessio was copied on a 1995 letter from a Southern California woman warning McGuire not to "attempt to harass or contact my son." In 2000, according to Jesuit records, Fessio reported to California Provincial Thomas Smolich that he had heard McGuire was in Massachusetts claiming to act as "legal guardian" for a 14-year-old boy, whom he intended to bring to live with him.
In 2002, Cornelius Buckley, a Jesuit priest and former colleague of McGuire and Fessio at USF, reported to the Chicago Province that McGuire was traveling with the same boy, who was named Dominick. Al Naucke, socius of the California Province, also passed on the information, as well as Fessio's 2000 concern about the suspicious arrangement, to Chicago priests. In 2007, after a phone conversation with Dominick, Buckley reported to Chicago that the boy "had been abused by McGuire for a couple of years" as a teenager, abuse that Buckley described as "being of an intimate character."
What are the legal and ethical implications of how complaints against McGuire, particularly the pivotal allegation brought by Charles's family, were handled? At the time when Charles alleged his molestation, California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act required professionals who interact with children — doctors, teachers, therapists, and others — to report suspicions of child molestation to the appropriate government agencies.
Clergy were not specified in the legislation as mandated reporters until 1997. Nevertheless, they can and should be construed as falling under the law's pre-1997 category for adults who professionally supervise or interact with children in any public or private setting, according to San Diego attorney Andrea Leavitt, who has helped draft revisions adopted in the state's reporting laws and has represented plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases.
"The failure to report is to knowingly expose more children to being sexually abused," she says. "You're a handmaiden, if you will, of the abuser."
In 2002, former Assemblyman and Republican Minority Leader Rod Pacheco, who went on to become district attorney of Riverside County, authored a bill that specifically required priests to disclose knowledge of child abuse that took place before they were listed as mandated reporters in 1997. But the bill was watered down before passage.
"It boiled down to more of an encouragement than a requirement," says Pacheco, a former altar boy who attended Catholic schools and described himself as deeply disturbed by priest abuse scandals in the U.S. "Quite frankly, that wasn't satisfactory to me. It was bad enough that priests were molesting children, but 100 times worse that the Catholic Church was protecting them."
In sum, the legal ramifications of how Charles's complaint was handled are unclear. Fessio said he had fulfilled his responsibilities by reporting what he heard about McGuire to Jesuit officials in Chicago in 1993, and said the blame lies with them for not taking action to control the priest. Fessio pointed in particular to a 1998 "letter of good standing" that then-Chicago Provincial Dick Baumann wrote to the Bishop of Las Vegas, indicating that McGuire "had never been accused of improprieties with minors." Two years later, Baumann apparently realized his mistake and declined to issue such a letter when the bishop made another request. "For a later provincial to write a letter saying, 'We have no indication that there have been any complaints about Father McGuire,' to me, that's the most reprehensible thing," Fessio says.
Baumann could not be reached for comment. According to Jesuit online publications, he was posted as of December on a mission in Ghana. A man who answered the telephone at the home of Crotty, the former school administrator who also learned of McGuire's abuse of Charles, refused to speak to a reporter. State law in 1993 unequivocally required that educators report suspicions of abuse to civil authorities.
The question of whether Charles's case should have been brought to police is also complicated by the fact that his family had no desire to do so. Today, Charles's father says that while the Jesuits' early responses to his family's complaints were inadequate, the Society's recent actions have been more satisfactory.
"I think the Jesuits were slow to believe ill of a fellow member; and underestimated [the] nature and scope of the problem," he wrote in an e-mail to SF Weekly. He credited Chicago Provincial Edward Schmidt, who stepped down in 2009, with treating his family more compassionately than earlier officials. "When Father Ed Schmidt did step up to the plate, their response was really excellent in our view," he said, declining to elaborate on what the response entailed, or whether they received financial compensation. "Our family has had what I would call a miraculous reconciliation and healing with them because of their sincerity and good faith."
After Charles's complaint, the legal landscape changed. From 2000 on, when Fessio and Buckley informed the Jesuits of McGuire's additional inappropriate activities with Dominick, clergy were specifically listed under state law as mandated reporters of child abuse. Buckley, now chaplain at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., declined to comment for this article. "I have nothing to say. That case is dead. He's in jail," he says. "I'm sorry. I can't give you any information." Naucke, the California socius who Jesuit records indicate passed on their concerns to Chicago, said he did not consider reporting the information on McGuire to police or child welfare officials. Fessio and Buckley "didn't tell me anything that would have triggered that," he says. "They had some rather vague concerns."
Fessio defends his actions, saying the report of the suspicious guardianship arrangement did not involve specific suggestions of sexual abuse. "It was not even an allegation; it was only that Father McGuire was in New England claiming that he was adopting this person," he says. "There was no abuse there. I just thought it should be looked into."
There was abuse there, even if Fessio was unaware of its existence or extent. McGuire had, in fact, tried to represent himself as Dominick's legal guardian on an application to a parochial school. And if anyone had looked into the situation, McGuire's sexual molestation of the boy — which included the priest's hallmark pornographic seminars, as well as invasive massages in which he inserted his fingers in Dominick's anus — might have been revealed.
Victims would have to turn to secular authorities before justice could be done. A civil lawsuit stemming from McGuire's years at Loyola Academy was filed in 2003, followed by a criminal investigation in Wisconsin. That state's statute of limitations on child molestation charges reached back into the 1960s, allowing authorities to prosecute McGuire for taking Loyola students on vacations into Wisconsin and abusing them. McGuire was convicted in 2006 on five counts of sexual assault of a minor. Dominick's suffering did not fully come to light until 2007, when his past abuse formed the linchpin of federal prosecutors' case against McGuire.
Phil Koss is district attorney of Walworth County, Wis. He was the first law enforcement official to take on McGuire, gambling that he could prove a 4-decade-old crime while facing enormous resistance from the Jesuits. In response to his cross-state subpoena for records on McGuire, the order provided him with a single double-sided page of the job postings the priest had held over the years, but none of the extensive documentation that would later emerge in civil litigation.
For Koss, the McGuire saga is an illustration of why statutes requiring the reporting of suspected child abuse should apply to clergy, and be rigorously enforced. Few better examples can be found of a religious organization's failure to prevent harm to innocents through internal controls. "The point of [the laws] is so these exact same things don't happen — 'I passed it on because I thought someone else would handle it,'" Koss said.
It is a timely observation, particularly in light of the Vatican's current thinking on its relationship to secular law enforcement agencies. In the wake of the McGuire scandal, the Chicago Province adopted a policy of reporting all abuse allegations to "civil authorities." George Wesolek, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, likewise said it is the church's policy to fully comply with California's mandated reporting laws. Yet earlier this month, Cardinal William Levada — the former San Francisco archbishop who is now prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the most powerful positions in the Roman Catholic Church — issued a letter requesting that bishops around the world draw up new guidelines on how to respond to child sex abuse. The results of this effort could be critical in steering the church's future handling of victims' complaints.
On the heels of McGuire's experiences in the criminal justice system, a form of ecclesiastical justice was, belatedly, delivered. In June 2007, McGuire was officially removed from membership in the Society of Jesus. In February 2008, the Vatican defrocked him. He had been an ordained Catholic priest for 47 years. He spent the last two of those years, and his final 16 months as a Jesuit — still serving humanity, in theory, for the greater glory of God — as a criminally convicted child molester.