September 1, 2021
Dear Faculty, Staff, Students and Administrators:
Today I wish to share with you the Report and Recommendations from the University Commission on Gonzaga’s Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis. Grateful to each member of the Commission for their work, I have accepted and endorse each of the recommendations as presented to me in this report. My hope is that this document guides our decisions and actions as we demonstrate our solidarity with victim-survivors, deepen our understanding of the systemic abuse within the Church and its far-reaching impacts, work together as community to address and where possible repair broken trust, and advance the apostolic and educational mission of Gonzaga University. The Report is available at www.gonzaga.edu/Commission.
In April 2019, in response to the historic and ongoing crisis of systemic clergy sexual abuse both national and international, I appointed the Commission, co-chaired by Dr. Megan McCabe and Dr. Michelle Wheatley and composed of faculty, staff, administrators, students, a Jesuit, and governing board members. The charge for the Commission was to identify, discuss, and make recommendations to me regarding a set of formal actions the University should take in light of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and its many impacts and implications. From the point of its formation, the Commission labored to educate itself and create opportunities for dialogue and input from others, before focusing on the development of specific recommendations in response to its charge.
It is important to recognize that some of the issues explored by the Commission, and emphasized in its report, focus on the relationship between the Society of Jesus and the University. Gonzaga is a Catholic and Jesuit apostolic work in good standing through sponsorship by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) – a sponsorship that was affirmed by Father General Arturo Sosa in October 2020, as an outcome of the Mission Priority Examen (MPE) process. This relationship is intrinsic to our founding, constitution, and structures of governance. For this reason, it has been important to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Board of Trustees and with the Jesuit Board of Members about the Commission’s work and recommendations – dialogue that occurred throughout the past year.
Two realizations were clear from these discussions. First, the members of the Commission worked diligently and thoughtfully to grapple with the issues and to provide as candid and constructive a Report and set of recommendations as possible, and there is deep gratitude on the part of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Members for this work. I, too, am very grateful for their efforts, which I know required tremendous commitment and courage, and a significant degree of vulnerability.
Secondly, the issues to which the Report refers are a painful subject for many people, including members of our own University and Jesuit community. It is my hope that the next phase of this work will create opportunities for deeper awareness and understanding, but differing perspectives about appropriate next steps must not stand in the way of our work moving forward.
Surely, one of the most traumatic markers in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has involved acts of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by members of the clergy here in the U.S. and around the world. The harm was compounded when certain leaders within the Church sought to cover up the abuse or deny that it occurred at all. The impact of this systemic abuse of power continues to ripple through the worldwide Church to this day.
The Gonzaga community has been impacted in various ways by this crisis. There are priests, dating back to the early 1900s, who lived and worked at Gonzaga and at some point had credible allegations of abuse made against them. Across the Pacific Northwest, a number of claims of abuse were filed in the early 2000s, which ultimately led the Jesuits of the former Oregon Province to file for bankruptcy in 2009.
In mid-2018, a grand jury investigation of Church sexual abuse in Pennsylvania focused on systematic problems with multiple alleged cases and how these were handled by leaders there, including former Cardinal McCarrick. In December 2018, a media story reported on several priests – most notably a now-deceased Jesuit named James Poole, against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made – who were subsequently housed in the Jesuit retirement community located within Gonzaga’s campus.
Gonzaga University is very aware of, and concerned about, the number of incidents involving sexual harassment and sexual assault that do occur on college campuses, and has worked hard to create a robust system for education, response, and victim advocacy and support at Gonzaga through the work of our Title IX Director, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The reality of the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church of which we are a part brings an additional dimension of complexity, significance, and accountability to these issues.
Progress and Next Steps
In the wake of media stories of 2018, the Provincial of the U.S. Jesuits West Province released a statement, which made the commitment that “no Jesuit with a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is currently or will ever be knowingly assigned to Gonzaga University or the Jesuit community on its campus, nor to any Jesuit work of the Province.”* The local Superior, who has responsibility for all Jesuits in the Spokane Region, and I have developed a process by which this commitment can be assured. This was also one of the specific recommendations called out by the Commission that will continue to be further reviewed.
In addition, the Commission recommended greater support for Indigenous and Native students at Gonzaga as well as the establishment of a fund dedicating $10,000 annually for faculty research and scholarly activities related to the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. After receiving the Commission’s report, I immediately allocated a minimum of $15,000 to create a new Social Justice & the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis Fund to support faculty research and other activities in its first year.
Further, I have asked Dr. McCabe and Dr. Wheatley to chair a Steering Committee which will oversee a subsequent phase of the work – an invitation they have graciously accepted. The Report identifies areas that naturally lend themselves to working groups, which will ensure progress, accountability, and implementation of recommendations. These work groups will include lay colleagues, Jesuits, students, and perhaps others. It is my hope that – as occurred in the first phase of this project – members of this community will respond to the call for nominations and in so doing render a great service to Gonzaga and its future as a Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic university.
Please visit Gonzaga.edu/Commission for more information, to view the report, provide feedback, and express interest in participating in a work group. This report and the recommendations within mark the beginning of an important journey. I look forward to the continued meaningful work ahead of us.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.
*This sentence updated Sept. 1, 2021, 2:30 p.m.