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1969: GONZAGA, SPOKANE POLICE GIVE PEDOPHILE PRIEST A FREE PASS 

click to enlarge Father John P. Leary
  • Father John P. Leary

In 1961, John P. Leary, a Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) became president of Gonzaga University. Seen as a visionary leader in the realm of educational theory, Leary was beloved at the university and oversaw the school during a period of growth.

But in 1969, Leary left Spokane abruptly. A regional Jesuit leader told the community that Leary had resigned for health reasons, and the priest was reassigned to other posts in the western United States. The university released a similar statement.

Thirty-seven years later, the real reason for Leary's departure became public — the priest was a pedophile who'd molested several young boys and at least one Gonzaga student, the order later admitted. Back in 1969, Spokane police, fully aware of Leary's monstrous behavior, didn't arrest the priest. Instead, they gave him the opportunity to leave Spokane within 24 hours.

Leary went on to continue working in education, eventually founding the New College of California, a progressive university in San Francisco that was unaffiliated with the church, which eventually folded in 2008. He also launched innovative educational endeavors throughout California and was widely regarded as a pedagogical guru. Leary died in 1993 here in Spokane, which didn't say much for the police's already reprehensible choice to allow him to leave town instead of facing charges.

After the Society of Jesus made the public aware of Leary's misdeeds, the order settled with two of Leary's victims for an undisclosed amount. Attorneys for those men said that one of them was abused as a Gonzaga freshman while serving as the priest's driver in 1965. The other was a then-12-year-old boy who Leary found riding a bike in the neighborhood. The priest lured him to his office, where the boy was molested, attorneys say. Gonzaga officials told the boy not to tell his parents about the incident.

When the news was revealed in 2006, Gonzaga sent out more than 55,000 letters to alumni describing Leary's actions and encouraging any other victims to come forward. A decade later, you'll find all the university's past presidents listed on the Gonzaga website, with a corresponding photo popping up if you hover your cursor over a name. No photo comes up for Leary's name, though.

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