The Rev. Bradley M. Schaeffer had been the leader of the Jesuits in the Chicago area for two years when an anguished father wrote to him with disturbing news about one of his most famous priests.
Donald J. McGuire, a globe-trotting spiritual retreat leader who counted Mother Teresa among his fans, had been taking showers and looking at pornography with the man’s son, and the son had been giving McGuire frequent massages when the two traveled together.
“Other acts of a serious nature may have taken place,’’ warned the boy’s father in the May 1993 letter, adding that a second teen may have been victimized as well.
Schaeffer learned of at least two more complaints about McGuire’s behavior with boys during his six years in Chicago. But Schaeffer, now a member of the Boston College board of trustees and the leader of a study center, housed on the BC campus, for future Jesuit priests, never investigated nor contacted police. Instead, he sent his wayward priest for treatment of a sexual disorder - treatment that Schaeffer acknowledged did not go well.
“What is clear is that the basics are not going to change here,’’ Schaeffer wrote, after a 1994 meeting with McGuire after his return from more than six months of treatment. “It could be that there is an extremely rough time ahead.’’
Indeed there was, as McGuire continued to molest boys - including an eighth-grader at a private Catholic school in Massachusetts - until at least 2003, six years after Schaeffer left Chicago to become the nation’s top Jesuit leader. McGuire is now serving 25 years in a federal prison for child sex abuse while the Jesuits face a lawsuit for their failure to protect one of McGuire’s alleged victims.
The failed oversight of McGuire by Schaeffer and other Jesuit leaders - detailed in voluminous records from civil lawsuits released last year, but not brought to public attention until now - sheds rare light on how ineffectually the world’s largest Catholic religious order dealt with sexual abuse complaints even after the clergy abuse scandal rocked the church in 2002.
The Jesuits, who oversee 28 colleges and universities and 47 high schools in America, did not expel McGuire from the order until 2007, nearly 40 years after the first serious allegation against him.
“If the Chicago Province had acted promptly to cut McGuire off from contact with young men when it first learned of his misconduct in 1970, none of this abuse would have occurred,’’ concluded Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence, in a June 2011 decision allowing McGuire’s alleged victims to seek punitive damages from the Jesuits.
Lawrence said Schaeffer missed a chance to stop McGuire in 1993 after McGuire was diagnosed with a sexual disorder, writing that some abuses “would have been avoided altogether,’’ if he had grounded McGuire.
Schaeffer, now 62 and planning to retire from BC later this year, declined to answer questions from a Globe reporter outside his office in February. But he issued a statement through the Jesuits’ Chicago Province expressing contrition for the role he played in mismanaging complaints against McGuire.
“I deeply regret that my actions were not enough to prevent him from engaging in these horrific crimes,’’ he said.
In Boston, where the priest sex abuse scandal first came to light, many victims were frustrated that Cardinal Bernard F. Law avoided serious consequences for covering up abuses by many priests. Though Law resigned as leader of the Boston Archdiocese in 2002 amid a public outcry, he was later named to the prestigious post of archpriest at Rome’s St. Mary Major Basilica, while several aides who participated in the coverup were put in charge of dioceses of their own.
Some of McGuire’s reported victims see similarities between the coverups in Boston and Jesuit leaders’ failure to stop McGuire, but they say there is still a chance to hold Schaeffer accountable, arguing that he should lose his seat on the board of one of the most prestigious Catholic institutions in America.
“It’s an incredible failure of leadership,’’ said the alleged victim who is suing the Jesuits for failing to prevent his abuse.
Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor faults Jesuit leaders and others who suspected McGuire’s abuses, but didn’t report them to police.
“McGuire molested dozens of boys over decades,’’ said Julie B. Porter, the assistant US attorney who led McGuire’s federal prosecution. “It wasn’t until the very end, when McGuire was almost 80 years old, that a victim came forward to law-enforcement officials.’’
Officials at BC said they don’t plan to take action against Schaeffer, whose term on the board expires in June, for his part in the McGuire case. They said the university had no knowledge of the McGuire case or Schaeffer’s role in it when he was elected to the board in 2004, although the first alleged victims’ lawsuits were filed a year earlier.
“While Father Schaeffer was being considered for the Boston College board no one on the board had knowledge of Father McGuire and his disgraceful conduct,’’ said BC spokesman Jack Dunn.
McGuire, now 81 and losing his sight, is recalled by those who knew him before he was imprisoned as a man of ample girth and crinkly eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. He is also remembered as a magnetic retreat master who enjoyed a special relationship with the late Mother Teresa, the nun renowned for her work with the poor of Calcutta now under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican.
Indeed, in a 1994 letter to Schaeffer, written when he was mulling McGuire’s future, Mother Teresa urged Schaeffer to let McGuire resume his travels, praising “his unselfish, often heroic response to go anywhere I send him.’’
McGuire’s victims, during interviews with the Globe, said McGuire cultivated deep relationships with their families, sometimes over many years, before gaining access to their children and molesting them.
“He’s there for every major family event,’’ said the mother of one alleged victim. “He knows all of the family’s ups and downs and makes a connection in a deep way that inspires total trust.’’ The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
To this day, McGuire asserts that he’s innocent, writing recently to the Globe that his supervisors abandoned him “to save their own necks.’’
But court documents show that the Jesuits in Chicago began receiving complaints about McGuire’s relationships with boys beginning in the early 1960s, including one 1964 letter that said Irish police had interviewed a young male traveling with McGuire about their relationship.
But the Jesuits took no action until 1991, when Schaeffer’s predecessor attempted to bar McGuire from traveling with anyone under 18.
Schaeffer, who attended a workshop on managing sexual abuse complaints early in his tenure as the top Chicago Jesuit, reacted swiftly when he received the letter from the anguished father warning that his son as well as another young male assistant may have had inappropriate relationships with McGuire. The father said he had already consulted an attorney and Schaeffer would soon learn that the priest had violated the earlier restriction on travel with boys.
Schaeffer had McGuire evaluated, learned that his peripatetic priest had a sexual disorder, and persuaded him to undergo six months of treatment at a Catholic facility in Pennsylvania.
But McGuire despised the treatment - his brother, a Chicago attorney, wrote to Schaeffer complaining that the therapists were using “brainwashing techniques so foreign to our American sense of justice.’’
After 4 1/2 months, he stopped cooperating with treatment, then returned to Schaeffer eager to resume his ministry. After an “extremely difficult’’ meeting with McGuire in a 1994, Schaeffer wrote that he considered seeking McGuire’s removal from the Jesuits altogether, but feared McGuire’s “ability to reek (sic) havoc’’ within the order.
Instead, Schaeffer allowed McGuire to resume his itinerant ministry, barring him from traveling with anyone under 21 but doing little to enforce the prohibition. Moreover, there is no evidence that Schaeffer ever contacted McGuire’s other boy assistant to find out if he, too, had been abused, even though the anguished father and his attorney contacted Schaeffer’s office at least three times to say the boy needed attention.
“No one ever did anything to make sure the boy was safe, even though Schaeffer was specifically advised that McGuire was traveling with him,’’ said Michael L. Brooks, an attorney who represented the boy years later, when he filed a lawsuit.
In 1995, Schaeffer’s top assistant wrote to McGuire outlining four recently-received complaints about his behavior with boys. “Let us hope that no more alleged incidents come to light,’’ he wrote. It is unclear why neither Schaeffer nor his assistant confronted McGuire about the earlier complaints dating to the 1960s, although their pretrial testimony suggests that neither made a thorough attempt to review his personnel records.
By 1998, Schaeffer had finished his tenure in Chicago and moved on to a bigger job in Washington as the nation’s top Jesuit leader. He described himself as a team player for the order, drawing a comparison between his job as president of the Jesuit Conference and the commissioner of Major League Baseball.
“You’re trying to keep the provincials, the owners, happy and working together for the good of the game,’’ he explained in 2009 pretrial testimony for one of the McGuire lawsuits.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, McGuire routinely ignored Schaeffer’s order not to travel with young men and boys.
In the spring of 1999, McGuire was ushering a 13-year-old boy into his room - and his bed - at a Chicago-area Jesuit residence where, according to federal prosecutors, he groomed the boy for years of service as his traveling nurse, masseuse, and sexual partner.
Until then, the boy, known as Dominick in the federal criminal case, had been raised by a single mother who admired McGuire and ultimately entrusted her son to his care.
In the fall of that year, Dominick entered the eighth grade at the Trivium School, a small, Catholic private school in Lancaster, Mass., where McGuire was a regular presence, and boarded with Philip F. Lawler, the Catholic writer and editor of Catholic World News.
Over the next nine months, Lawler and his wife grew suspicious about the relationship between the renowned priest and their young boarder. After meeting McGuire for the first time at their home, near the end of the school year, Lawler called a Jesuit friend and asked him to notify McGuire’s superiors that the priest and Dominick were too close.
But Lawler’s warning, like so many that had come before, was brushed aside, and McGuire soon resumed molesting Dominick. “The boy was not abused while he was here but he was abused after he left us, after we had communicated our fears to [McGuire’s] Jesuit superiors,’’ Lawler said in an interview. “That makes me livid.’’
After leaving the Trivium School for good in 2000, Dominick was molested by McGuire - sometimes on a daily basis - during school breaks and vacations over the next three years, when McGuire took him on sojourns to a dozen states and a handful of foreign countries to stage religious retreats.
At one point during his testimony in a Chicago federal courtroom, Dominick recalled a hotel room in Vienna where McGuire performed oral sex on him. At the time, Dominick was 14 years old.
By June of 2002, the clergy abuse scandal was getting national attention, and Jesuit officials in Chicago were mulling yet another complaint about McGuire and his relationship with Dominick. This time, they stopped his traveling ministry, restricting his official activities to the boundaries of the Chicago Archdiocese.
But it was too little, too late. A year later, three of McGuire’s alleged victims sued McGuire and the Chicago Jesuits.
“For over 30 years, the Jesuits have known that Father McGuire has presented an unacceptable risk to young children,’’ said Marc J. Pearlman, an attorney for the victims, in comments to the Chicago media.
By then, Boston College had taken the lead among local Catholic institutions in responding to the clergy abuse crisis, hosting panels, sponsoring lectures, and, in 2004, launching its “Church in the 21st Century Program’’ as a permanent fixture on its academic landscape.
“What has eroded is confidence in the leadership of the church,’’ said BC’s president, William P. Leahy, explaining the need for the program.
That same year, Boston College named Schaeffer to his first term on its board of trustees. BC officials say they had no knowledge of the accusations that had been leveled against McGuire, or the role that Schaeffer had played in failing to stop McGuire’s traveling ministry and his repeated abuse of boys.
Two years later, in 2006, a jury in Wisconsin convicted McGuire of molesting two high school students during the 1960s. At about that time, Schaeffer moved to the Boston area to take the helm of what is now the Blessed Peter Faber Jesuit Community, a Jesuit study and training center affiliated with the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College.
In 2008, McGuire was convicted of molesting the Trivium School student and was sentenced to his 25-year prison term.
Schaeffer’s appointment as rector of the Faber Community was approved by the highest Jesuit official in the world, the superior general, based in Rome. A spokeswoman said the order would not disclose whether Schaeffer’s supervision of McGuire was considered when the appointment was made.
But the Jesuits’ handling of the McGuire case has raised questions among some of the victims about the order’s willingness to face sexual abuse allegations.
“The Jesuits have consistently shown that they will only act to protect children from the menace of abuse when there is a threat of legal action or public scandal,’’ the alleged victims’ lawyers said in their motion for punitive damages last year.
A spokesman for the Chicago Jesuits said the order is committed to responding to alleged victims of sexual abuse. But he also said the Chicago Province did not fully implement measures for responding to abuse accusations until 2007 - five years after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops approved its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Leahy, the Jesuit priest who has led BC since 1996, declined to discuss Schaeffer’s post on the board although his spokesman, Dunn, said the university would take no action against Schaeffer. Dunn also said that BC has benefited significantly from the expertise of Schaeffer, who received a master’s degree in education from BC.
But Terence McKiernan, the founder of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks clergy sex abuse cases, said the failure to hold Catholic leaders accountable for their mismanagement of abusive clergy is an affront to victims that underscores doubts about the church’s commitment to eradicating sexual abuse by priests.
“Until places like Boston College stop putting people like Schaeffer in positions of power this thing is going to continue,’’ he said.Michael Rezendes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RezGlobe.