An Illinois judge sharply criticized the Jesuit order in a ruling issued yesterday for not taking adequate steps to rein in defrocked priest and twice-convicted child molester Donald McGuire, asserting that McGuire was preying on teenage boys "right under the noses" of his superiors and that rules established to protect minors from him were "a sham."
The ruling allows punitive damages to be levied against the Jesuits if they lose a lawsuit over McGuire's four-decade career as a predator priest that is now pending in Cook County Circuit Court. The lawsuit names as a defendant the Chicago Province of the Jesuits, where McGuire was technically based. McGuire -- an eminent Jesuit who served as spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa -- taught at the University of San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s, and ministered to Bay Area families extensively throughout the 1990s.
"The court accepts that the Jesuits are a religious order with a rich history of service to the faithful," Judge Jeffrey Lawrence wrote. "However, the leaders of the Chicago Province fell far short of this ideal. Plaintiffs have amply demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial which would support an award of punitive damages."
The lawsuit is being brought by several victims of McGuire, including one of two boys from Walnut Creek he allegedly molested. The Jesuits had argued that punitive damages should not be permitted in the suit because McGuire's bosses had no way of controlling him and the wayward priest flaunted his order's vows of obedience.
But Lawrence, noting that the Jesuits received nine "credible" complaints against the priest over 33 years, rejected that argument. He stated that rules the Jesuits issued forbidding McGuire from ministering to minors were never enforced. "The guidelines they set for him were a sham," he wrote in his ruling. Moreover, Lawrence noted, the Jesuits proactively lied to other church officials about McGuire's troubled past.
"The record shows more than mere acquiescence," he stated. "By 1998, the Chicago Province possessed sure and certain knowledge of McGuire's predations. Notwithstanding, it wrote a good standing letter to the Archdiocese of Chicago which stated that it had never received reports of any improprieties committed by McGuire and that there was no reason to restrict his ministry to minors ... it is clear that the statements in this letter were knowingly untruthful."
You can read the full ruling here.
The decision could pave the way for a multimillion-dollar payout from the Jesuits if the alleged victims prevail at trial. In his ruling, Lawrence noted that the case is "strikingly similar" to another recent Illinois lawsuit over clergy sex-abuse that resulted in a $5 million judgment against the Diocese of Belleville.
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