Whenever church officials are promoted, we always hope for the best. We hope that church officials will bring in an outsider who has not been involved in an institution that has been marred by cover-ups, or that a priest is promoted instead of a monsignor or fellow bishop. Today, when a Jesuit priest Fr. Thomas Smolich was tapped to head the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, church officials did exactly the opposite of what we hope for. They elevated a man with a horrific record on child sex abuse and who has been allegedly involved in many cover ups.
Smolich, who has worked as President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States since 2006, has a history rife with excusals of predator priests. In 2002, Smolich was working as the Provincial for the California province of the Jesuits. When Angel Crisostomo Mariano was sued in civil court for abusing a mentally disabled man, Smolich denied knowing much about Mariano at all, despite the fact that, at that point, Smolich had been roommates with Mariano for two years.
Beyond living with credibly accused predator priests, Smolich has housed other convicted and accused predators at the Sacred Heart Center in Los Gatos, CA where these predators have been able to mix with vulnerable adults, in some cases abusing them. Fr. James Chevedden was wheelchair-bound and living at Sacred Heart when he was abused by serial predator Br. Charles Leonard Connor (http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/12309408.htm).
Tragically, Fr. Chevedden died by suicide or a staged suicide three years after reporting the abuse, and the Jesuits later settled with Chevedden’s surviving family in a wrongful death suit.
Smolich has housed and protected more than just Br. Connor, however. At least five credibly-accused or convicted predators have lived at Sacred Heart (Fr. Connor, Fr. Jerold Lidner, Fr. Edward Thomas Burke, Fr. Mariano, and Br. John Moniz) (http://www.detnews.com/2002/religion/0207/01/religion-526386.htm). These men were afforded the opportunity to not only avoid responsibility for their crimes, but also the chance to abuse others.
Clearly, Smolich is more focused on protecting his fellow Jesuits than he is deterring them from abusing children and vulnerable adults or making sure that citizens are safe from other predators within the Society of Jesus. We are deeply concerned that Smolich is the type of man who is, at least according to the Catholic hierarchy, worthy of promotion. We wonder how many more people have been or will be abused by his protection of predator priests, and we worry about how this promotion will allow this type of behavior to continue.
Smolich should be demoted, not promoted.
We urge anyone who has been abused by any priest, Jesuit or otherwise, to immediately go to the police and work to put the predator in jail. That’s the best way to keep kids safe. The Jesuits are still not doing what they should to safeguard the vulnerable and expose child molesting clerics.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Smolich should be ashamed of himself. Someone in his position should protect children & vulnerable populations and work to bring out the truth, not cover it up. Someday I hope these criminals will face the crimes they perpetrated.