US college admits to sex abuse cover-up

September 29, 2006

A university head allegedly molested boys in the 1960s, writes Jon Marcus Church officials at a Catholic university in the US Pacific Northwest have admitted that they covered up the alleged sexual abuse of boys and young men by the school's president in the 1960s.

The Rev Dr John Leary, the former president of Gonzaga University, was hustled out of the state of Washington by the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus on the pretence that he was suffering from health problems when, in fact, he had been threatened with arrest by city officials who had learnt of the abuse.

Dr Leary was president of the Jesuit-owned university for the period 1961-69. Church leaders first learnt of allegations against him in 1966, but Dr Leary denied them. He was allowed to remain as president until 1969, when he was given 24 hours to leave town or face arrest. He was moved to New York, then to Massachusetts and then around the western US until he died in 1993.

Robert Spitzer, the university's current president, said: "We sincerely regret these actions." The incidents came to light while lawyers were researching other cases of abuse.

Dr Spitzer said: "Aware of the immediate and long-standing impact that such (acts) can have on individuals, the university has, over an extended period of time, instituted measures to make clearer and more systematic the reporting, investigation and accountability for inappropriate sexual behaviour."

John Whitney, superior of the local Jesuit order, said: "I can only surmise that fear of scandal and of harm to Gonzaga University gripped those Jesuits. Fear, however, is not an adequate excuse and is not consistent with our faith and calling."

These days, he said, a thorough investigation would have been launched immediately, but in 1966 that did not happen.

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