*CONTENT WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, SUICIDE AND MENTAL HEALTH*
The Boston Globe’s investigative team, Spotlight, released an investigative feature in June 2002 that exposed leaders in the Catholic Church who concealed and relocated priests that had been molesting children for years. These troubling discoveries brought people to question not only the ministry, but the priests and bishops who had violated the trust of their communities and churchgoers.
The Globe’s reporting not only shook the entire Catholic church, but the country as well. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of people responded, including Seattle University’s President Father Stephen Sundborg, S.J. In an article published by The Seattle Times in April 2002 titled, “Seattle U to review sex-harrasment policy – Catholic school plans forums,” Sundborg said that he was disappointed by the actions of his fellow leaders in the church.
“I find myself very heavy and weighed down. Hurt by the misuse by priests of their positions, saddened by what’s happened to children and young people and families, discouraged by how the church has seemed to act in some instance. It weighs heavily,” Sundborg said in the article.
And yet, in 2005 Sundborg became one of the many Catholic leaders in question after several individuals came forward and alleged that he, along with others, was responsible for allowing Jesuits to sexually abuse women and children throughout the Northwest Oregon Province during his time as provincial from 1990 to 1996. The provincial is the highest ranking chair within a province. They are responsible for assigning, re-assigning and evaluating priests and ordained ministers in the Society of Jesus. At the time Sundborg was provincial, he had jurisdiction over Idaho, Washington, Alaska, Montana and Oregon.
Plaintiffs alleged that Sundborg allowed two Jesuits, Father James Poole and Father Henry Hargreaves, to continue working within ministry despite previous history of sexual misconduct they had. In light of these allegations, Sundborg insisted that he did not know any of these Jesuits’ previous histories, nor was he was aware of their abuse and harassment of minors. The survivors’ accounts of sexual misconduct endured by these Jesuits are numerous.
Plaintiff “James Doe 94” filed a 2009 complaint against Hargreaves in the Superior Court of the State of Alaska after being raped by Hargreaves when he was about six years old. In the weeks following his rape, James Doe 94 suffered great injuries such as rectal bleeding and an inability to go to the bathroom.
As described in the complaint filed in the courts, James Doe 94 experienced “severe emotional distress, great mental anguish, spiritual theft, loss of faith in God and the Catholic Church, loss of social interactions with others in the community, fear of priests and religious, loss of access to the Holy Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church…” James Doe 94 was the only survivor during Sundborg’s tenure as provincial who filed a complaint in court against Hargreaves.
The complaint alleged that Sundborg was a conspirator given that, as provincial, he had access to “personnel and/or confidential files of each and every Jesuit priest serving in the Oregon Province.” Father Thomas R. Royce, S.J., who was provincial of the Oregon province from 1980 to 1986, explained in his deposition that in the provincial’s office there was a collection of documents which Royce called the “Hell Files.” These documents were special files about Jesuits that would have information including those with a sexually abusive history.
Despite Royce having been there 10 years before Sundborg, and having access to the Hell Files, Sundborg said in 2009 during an interview with the Spectator that he knew nothing of such documents.
Rachel Mike and Elsie Boudreau were two of many victims who came forward and shared their experiences of sexual abuse. Boudreau alleged that he was sexually abused by Father Poole from age 10 to 16. Boudreau accused Poole of kissing and fondling her and, eventually, Poole even had Boudreau lie on top of him.
Mike experienced similar abuse. While in the hospital in 1977, Mike was visited by Poole who, during his visit, would fondle her underneath the hospital bed sheets. A year later Mike was raped and later impregnated by Poole, according to records. When Poole learned that she was pregnant, he requested that she abort the baby and blame her father for raping her. Mike did as she was told.
Though Mike’s, Boudreau’s and many others assaults happened before Sundborg was head of the province, court documents say Poole did have a manifestation of conscience— which is the confession-like practice of making one’s superior aware of one’s state of conscience—with Sundborg while he was the provincial. This confidential conversation between the priest and his superior ensures that nothing said will be reported or spoken beyond the manifestation, even if the confessor admits to a criminal act.
Following Poole’s manifestation of conscience, according to court records, Sundborg sent him for evaluation to Doctor Stuart Greenberg, a Seattle psychologist who worked frequently in sexual abuse cases and served as a consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle. After his evaluation, Poole was then sent to Jemez Springs in New Mexico for for sexual-deviancy treatment.
In a deposition in October of 2005, Sundborg testified in a civil lawsuit accusing Poole of sexual misconduct. During his testimony, Sundborg said he sent eight Jesuits to Greenberg that he could recall during his time as provincial. The Jesuits named were Father Jim Poole, Father Jim Laudwein, Father Craig Boly, Father John Dunn, Father Larry Gooley, Father L. Pat Carroll and Father John Fuchs. Greenberg’s work came into question, though, in 2007 when he was arrested and suspended from practice after it was discovered that he recorded employees in the bathroom and would later masturbate to the recordings.
When Sundborg was asked if he had placed anybody in Ministry, without or after treatment who had been accused of sexual abuse, Sundborg testified that yes, he had done so.
He explained that he did so because the Jesuits in question had been professionally evaluated, that there were others measures put into place and that their behaviors showed no sign of risk. Of these priests, those put back into Ministry were Poole and Boly. When questioned if any of them had reoffended, Sundborg said that he did not know. When asked if he kept track of Jesuits who reoffended, Sundborg responded that he did not.
With Poole being the center of the deposition taken in 2005, Sundborg was further questioned as to whether he attempted to dismiss Father Poole, to which he responded “no.” When asked why, Sundborg said, “I believed he could do ministry. I believed he could live within the Society of Jesus… And I believed he could function without risk to anyone.”
In the history of Poole’s Jesuit career, 25 accusers came forward, ranging from young children to grown women, alleging Poole’s sexual abuse.
As his time as provincial, Sundborg was questioned about how many direct conversations he had with Poole concerning his sexual activities while functioning as a Jesuit. He said in the deposition that he had 10 conversations with Poole. Out of these conversations, about six or seven were outside of the manifestation of conscience. When later questioned whether Poole was a trustworthy person, Sundborg responded, “No.”
The deposition not only gave context to what happened during the time that Sundborg was provincial, but also as president of Seattle University.
While being deposed, Sundborg was asked if, as the president of Seattle U, whether there are any Jesuits under his supervision who had been accused of sexual misconduct. Sundborg responded yes, and revealed that it was the Vice President of Seattle U Tony Harris, who had been “accused of sending suggestive and pornographic cards to a younger Jesuit.” While Sundborg said he was aware of the accusations against Harris, he said he did not know of any lawsuits made against Harris.
An article published by the Seattle Times in October 2006 titled, “Seattle U. official quits as claims surface,” further investigated the allegations made against Tony Harris and reported that Sundborg had no regrets of hiring Harris, was already aware of the Jesuit’s past and that he had proposed the hiring of Harris to the Board of Trustees, who, after asking questions, also agreed to hire him.
“He’s been an excellent vice president for ministry and mission, and I know him very, very well and admire him,” Sundborg was quoted in The Times article. “He came to this decision in light of the overall atmosphere created around the sexual-abuse issue.”
Sundborg said that Harris would resign from his position as vice president immediately, but would continue to work on special projects at Seattle U. It was also reported that Sundborg, during the time of Harris’s resignation, “had learned of a new accusation against another former Seattle U priest…which alleges the priest behaved inappropriately with a student in an incident involving alcohol.” Sundborg didn’t identify who the priest was.
After publishing the article on renaming the Connolly Center due to its affiliation with a priest who covered up child sex abuse cases, the Spectator editorial board found it necessary to continue this investigation regarding Seattle U’s jesuits and their history with sexual misconduct. Upon finding concerning information, we found it necessary to report on the facts and allow for the story to tell itself.