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Let Him Prey: High-Ranking Jesuits Helped Keep Pedophile Priest Hidden 

Wednesday, May 25 2011
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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.

About The Author

Peter Jamison

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