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Province Silent, University Issues Response on Dziak

Editor’s Note: Jack Miller is a former Heights news editor who was selected by Editor-in-Chief Owen Fahy to report on the University’s response to the April 26 Heights article. Miller was selected because he is not a member of the 103rd Board of  The Heights and not involved with the original article. He was given access to review the editorial processes fairly and without bias. Heights editors who were involved with the sourcing, reporting, or editing of the original article were not involved with the writing or editing of this article. 

Boston College has criticized the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus for failing to respond to allegations that Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., emotionally abused multiple students and sexually abused one volunteer. The response follows Heights reporting that members of the BC community informed University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., of Dziak’s inappropriate behavior.

The University said that omissions concerning Leahy’s authority over Dziak’s future placements contributed to an unfair characterization throughout the article. BC had directed questions about Dziak to the East Province. The East Province did not respond to The Heights’ four requests for comment ahead of publication or the five requests made since.

“[The East Province’s] negligence has helped to create a false narrative, which has unfairly impugned the integrity of Fr. Leahy,” Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said in an email to The Heights.

In an April 26 Heights article, Tim Ballard, a DePaul University graduate, alleged that Dziak raped him four times on a 2004 mission trip in Belize. Ballard’s accusations were first reported by nola.com.

The April 26 article indicated that Leahy had been made aware that Dziak engaged in emotional abuse and inappropriate behavior with BC students. There are no known allegations of sexual abuse from Dziak’s time at BC. Dziak directed the University’s Ignacio Volunteers program, which organized student service trips. 

In the spring of 1998, Dziak announced that he would be leaving BC for an all-boys Jesuit Catholic high school in Jamaica.

The Heights first asked the University for comment on Ballard’s allegations against Dziak—by then reported on by nola.com—on April 23. At the time, the University declined to make a public statement and directed The Heights to the East Province instead.

Between April 23 and April 26, The Heights informed the University that the request for public comment had grown more urgent but did not specifically ask about Dziak’s behavior at BC. In response, the University reiterated that The Heights should reach out to the East Province. 

“I stand by our reporting and am confident that the article is entirely true,” Owen Fahy, editor-in-chief of The Heights and MCAS ’22, said. “Any omission was due to a source not responding by press time. Every individual and entity named for this story was given a minimum of 48 hours to respond.”

On April 27, Leahy published a statement responding to The Heights’ reporting. In it, Leahy revealed that he spoke to Dziak in the fall of 1997 about complaints made by members of the BC Chaplaincy before informing his Jesuit superiors of the situation. Leahy emphasized that he was not Dziak’s religious superior nor did the Province consult him about any subsequent assignments. 

The Heights made a crucial error in rushing to publish an article without obtaining all of the facts needed to present an accurate account of what transpired during Fr. Dziak’s time at Boston College,” Dunn said. “We referred The Heights to the USA East Province of Jesuits because Fr. Dziak is a member of the province and has had no connection with Boston College since he left in 1998.”

The East Province did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Heights ahead of the April 26 article. The Heights reached out to the Province’s office four times during that period: once on the evening of April 23, again on the morning of April 24, and twice in the afternoon of April 25. The Heights left three messages on the East Province’s main phone number across the four calls in advance of the article’s release.

“The refusal of the province to respond to The Heights and any other media inquiries on this issue is shameful and irresponsible,” Dunn said. “They should have acknowledged Tim Ballard’s claim against Fr. Dziak with the Jesuit Volunteers International in Belize in 2004 as well as the action Fr. Leahy took in 1997 when issues regarding Dziak’s conduct arose at BC. They should have explained to The Heights that Jesuit assignments are made by the Province, and that Fr. Leahy and Boston College had no role in his placements before or after his time at BC.”

The East Province has not responded to subsequent requests for comment from The Heights. On April 28, The Heights emailed James Skurka, the East Province’s contact for Advancement and Communication. On the same day, The Heights left a voicemail for both Skurka and the main Province office. A staff member for the East Province confirmed on April 29 that she had passed a message from The Heights on to the communications department. The Heights left another message for the main office on April 30. 

The April 26 article reported that Leahy learned about Dziak’s inappropriate and emotionally manipulative behavior—but not sexual abuse—in two stages. The first stage was during the 1997-1998 academic year when members of the BC Chaplaincy told Leahy that students had complained about Dziak’s troublesome behavior. 

“Fr. Dziak’s conduct at Boston College was abusive, as it involved unacceptable, petulant, emotionally controlling behavior,” Dunn said. “But it is important to clarify that there were and have been no allegations of sexual abuse against Fr. Dziak while he was at BC or Loyola University in New Orleans. His emotionally controlling conduct at Boston College warranted the action that Fr. Leahy took in 1997.”

The second stage detailed occurred in the year following Dziak’s departure. In the summer of 1998, Matt Stautberg, BC ’99, met with Leahy and told him about Dziak’s “inappropriate” and “childlike” actions. That fall, Stautberg wrote Rev. Robert Levens, S.J., then the provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, a letter about Dziak’s emotionally abusive behavior, a copy of which he sent to Leahy. In March 1999, Beth Eilers, BC ’97 and BCSOE ’99, also copied Leahy on a letter to Levens expressing concern that Dziak was able to stay in contact with BC students through the Ignacio Volunteers program.

Leahy said in his statement that he met with students about Dziak in 1998 and again told the Province about their complaints.

“As anyone who has worked with Fr. Leahy knows, he is a person who takes his priestly vows with the utmost seriousness and has no tolerance for abusive priests or anyone whose conduct does not meet our standards,” Dunn said.

Eilers also collected testimony from students, staff, and faculty detailing numerous examples of Dziak’s misconduct, including emotionally manipulative relationships with BC students. The April 26 article reported that these concerns were sent to Levens in the 1998-1999 academic year. Eilers also told Rev. Jim Webb, S.J., who as the regional superior of the Society for Guyana-Jamaica oversaw Dziak’s new assignment, that he should not be working with young students.

Dziak has also been accused of behaving inappropriately toward students at Loyola University New Orleans, where he served as the university’s vice president for mission and identity and the director of the university’s Jesuit center, according to nola.com. Ballard’s attorneys told nola.com that the accusations against Dziak are consistent with the allegations from BC and the Belize trip.

“I have talked to Tim Ballard, whom I respect greatly, and offered him my prayers and support,” Dunn said. “He is a survivor, and he deserves for the USA East Province of Jesuits to acknowledge his claim and the pain and suffering he is experiencing.”

Dziak announced his departure from Loyola after a year-long sabbatical, and in May 2020 he became the chaplain at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., according to nola.com. The current provincial of the USA East Province, Rev. Joseph O’Keefe, S.J., has since removed him from his position at Le Moyne, pending an investigation.

Featured Image by Johnathan Ye / Heights Senior Staff

May 3, 2021

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