Sunday is the 20th anniversary of the suspicious death of Fr. James Chevedden

Fr. James Chevedden, a Catholic priest who accused another Jesuit of sexually assaulting him, died under suspicious circumstances on May 19, 2004. We stand in solidarity with Fr. James’ family, as we near the 20th anniversary of his death.

San Jose authorities concluded that Fr. James committed suicide on his birthday by jumping from the roof of a parking structure across the street from the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice on May 19, 2004. However, his family has always questioned this finding.

Fr. James told his family in 2002 that he had been sexually assaulted by Br. Charles Leonard Connor. At the time, both men were living at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Altos, California.

According to Fr. James, the assault by Br. Connor occurred when Fr. James was recovering from the injuries he sustained when he jumped from a window-washing scaffold on the Sacred Heart grounds in 1998. After surgery for his injuries, Fr. James was confined to a wheelchair with casts on both feet, and he was escorted around the facility at times by Br. Connor. It was then that Fr. James was sexually and physically assaulted by Br. Connor.

Br. Connor was convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing two disabled adult men who lived and worked at the Jesuit Center. The Jesuit brother was removed from the facility in 2000, at the insistence of law enforcement officials who were looking into the assaults on the two men. The Jesuits settled a lawsuit filed by the two disabled men for $7.5 million in the summer of 2002.

However, after the 2002 Boston Globe reporting on the cover-up of abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston, at least five Jesuits from the Western Province who had been convicted of sex crimes or accused of molesting children were transferred to the Los Gatos facility. Br. Connor was among them; the Center was to be used as a haven for Jesuit sex offenders.

This meant Br. Connor and Fr. James would once again share the same residence. Not surprisingly, this development caused great emotional distress for Fr. James. When media coverage of the disabled men’s assault made it apparent that Fr. James was not Br. Connor’s only victim, he reported his accusations, confident that he would be believed. Br. Connor denied the assaults. The Jesuit investigation concluded that Fr. James accusations were not “credible.” Officials also refused Fr. James’ requests for transfer to another facility. The priest was forced to live in the same residence as Br. Connor, and the other Jesuit perpetrators.

It was at this point in time that Fr. James’ suspicious death occurred. Oddly, one of the last Jesuits to see the priest alive was Fr. Jerold W. Lindner. Both the Diocese of Oakland and the Jesuits acknowledge that Fr. Lindner is an abuser, with multiple accusations of assaulting children, both boys and girls.

The Jesuits reached a $1.6 million settlement with the Chevedden family in 2007. But for Fr. James’ surviving family, questions remain about the circumstances of his death. As Fr. James’ case illustrates, even clergymen are not immune from assaults by those who abuse in religious settings. Nor does their status within the Church guarantee that their outcries will be believed and addressed.

As we mourn Fr. James’ unnecessary death, we hope that you will consider a donation to SNAP in his memory. We have been providing help and support to victims like Fr. James for over 35 years.

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant