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Who is Tom Smolich?

What the head of the US Jesuits did -- and did not do -- in California

If you haven’t yet read the “How To Be A Gay Jesuit” post, do. The introduction, which I appended to the dialogue, was written the the Jesuit priest Fr. Tom Smolich. I had never heard of him, somehow. From his introduction:

Through the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, male religious in this country developed the Instruments of Hope and Healing, a comprehensive approach of outreach to victims of child sexual abuse and of concrete steps toward its prevention. Included in these Instruments is a requirement of continuing education for all religious in their communities.

In 2009, the Society developed an online questionnaire and four case studies in an adult learning format to meet this requirement for the succeeding three years.

This program and its structure were well received, as they provided the impetus for important conversations among Jesuits on issues we are often reluctant to engage: affective needs, appropriate boundaries, and healthy internet usage, to name a few. This 2009 program serves as the foundation for our continuing education for the next five years. This new program has been christened Conversations that Matter.

As part of Conversations that Matter, every Jesuit working or living in the United States will take a yearly on-line questionnaire which refreshes our knowledge about the problem of sexual abuse of minors and the abuse of power in pastoral ministry. The questionnaire also presents information on changing guidelines in these areas. For example, revisions in Vatican policies now include sexual abuse of vulnerable adults and possession of child pornography as offenses which disqualify a priest or religious from ministry. We need to be up to date on such changes.

In addition, each year, every Jesuit will engage a case study and discussion, and will be asked to increase his knowledge and competency on key aspects of our spiritual, ministerial, and affective lives. By engaging these sometimes challenging realities, we will be building deeper bonds as “friends in the Lord” and better preparing ourselves to be effective and compassionate ministers of God’s love.

Fr. Smolich is president of the US Jesuit Conference, making him the top Jesuit in the country. When he was elevated in 2012 to lead the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, SNAP protested. Excerpt:

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 (https://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) (https://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.

Check this 2002 LA Times story about Smolich’s record as head of the Jesuits in California. And his inaction (one of many who did nothing) on the Don McGuire case.

So, this top Jesuit’s idea of how to educate American Jesuits about child sexual abuse is … to have them watch an Afterschool Special video about Father Chris going to Pride and becoming comfortable with his friend, Affirming Jesus.

I’m sure that Pope Francis, a Jesuit, will be on it. Like a Catholic priest friend of mine snarked today, “We can’t have Jesuits breeding like rabbits.”



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