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

Wednesday, May 25 2011
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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.

About The Author

Peter Jamison

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