The Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church reached a $1.6-million settlement with the family of a priest who killed himself after accusing a Jesuit brother of molesting him, the family’s lawyer said Thursday.
On the second day of a trial assessing damages in the suicide of the Rev. James Chevedden, the California branch of the Society of Jesus agreed to pay the priest’s family without admitting liability, said Mark Meuser, the family’s attorney.
“My least concern is the money,” said Chevedden’s twin brother, Paul, 59, of Los Angeles. “But dealing with this issue again brings back the turmoil of Jim’s death with such immediacy that I keep getting shaken up.”
Chevedden died after jumping from a six-story parking structure on May 19, 2004, his 56th birthday. He had a history of mental illness and had jumped off a scaffold in 1998.
Chevedden alleged that during his recovery at a Jesuit hospital in 1998, he was molested and physically abused by Charles Leonard Connor, a Jesuit brother. The order settled the family’s wrongful death lawsuit to provide closure for Chevedden’s family and to avoid the financial and emotional costs of a legal battle, said Father John McGarry, head of the order’s California province.
“We wanted to respect the family and honor the memory of Father Chevedden’s wonderful Jesuit life,” McGarry said. “If we had gone through the trial, all of that would have been lost.”
The deal was struck after it became clear that the judge might admit evidence that would have cast both sides in a negative light, Meuser said.
Chevedden had dreamed of priesthood since grade school, his twin brother said, and after being ordained in 1978, he spent nearly two decades in Taiwan.
In 1991, he moved to an isolated farming town in Taiwan and became overwhelmed by work and a sense of abandonment.
Chevedden had a psychotic break in 1995 and was transferred to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif., to recover. The facility houses retired and elderly Jesuits.
Three years later, Chevedden jumped from a scaffold at the center, damaging his spine and fracturing his feet. Meuser said the incident was caused by Chevedden’s mental problems, but was not a suicide attempt.
After having surgery on his feet, Chevedden went to Sacred Heart’s infirmary, where he was often escorted in his wheelchair by Connor. One day, after escorting Chevedden to a computer room, Connor allegedly groped him.
Chevedden said he resisted further advances. Days later, he alleged, Connor retaliated by ramming his wheelchair into a barrier, inflicting severe pain to his feet.
Embarrassed by the molestation and worried that superiors would not believe his allegations, Chevedden stayed quiet, his twin brother said.
In the meantime, Connor pleaded no contest in 2001 to a count of lewd conduct with a vulnerable adult after he was accused of sexually assaulting two mentally disabled Sacred Heart workers.
Connor was sentenced to six months of house arrest away from the center. The order paid the victims $7.5 million and transferred them elsewhere.
When Connor returned to Sacred Heart in 2002, Chevedden told Jesuit superiors about his alleged abuse, Meuser said.
McGarry said the order investigated the allegations and found no substantiating evidence.
Connor is now 86 and living in Sacred Heart’s assisted living facility, McGarry said.