October 9, 2018
Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Administrators:
This past Saturday, Pope Francis indicated that the Vatican was undertaking a further, more comprehensive investigation of all known facts and reports relating to the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (who resigned this past summer in the face of “grave indications” confirming alleged abuse of a man by McCarrick in the 1970’s). The serious question of how the Catholic Church has, or has not, responded over time to reports of sexual abuse has been at the forefront of worldwide conversation since the McCarrick resignation, as well as the related grand jury report released in mid-August by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. The Pennsylvania Report – which indicated more than 1,000 children had been abused by 304 priests over a period of 70 years – was particularly stunning in that it also revealed the extent to which some bishops and cardinals were historically aware of such cases, chose to cover them up and by hiding them became complicit in the evil being perpetrated.
Ever since late summer, these matters have been a significant weight upon my mind. I felt compelled to make mention of this in my reflection at the Mass of the Holy Spirit this September; the revelations, the systematic problems in the Church they underscore, and the life-long impact that sexual abuse and trauma has on victims and on the culture, are consistently a part of my conversations with faculty, staff, students, Trustees and community members.
The issue of sexual abuse by clergy is neither new, nor region-specific, nor is it remote. In the early 2000s, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane filed for bankruptcy, culminating in payments totaling $46 million in settlement claims to 76 individuals. In 2009, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) filed for bankruptcy, ultimately agreeing to $166 million in claims payments. Gonzaga University did not participate in, nor contribute to, either the Diocesan or Province bankruptcy settlements. Nonetheless, we as a Catholic and Jesuit university community were deeply and emotionally impacted by them.
I understand that for us – a Catholic and Jesuit institution – allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests is disturbing and hurtful in many ways. The crisis of confidence which has given rise to the turmoil within the Catholic Church is cause for deep concern and anxiety. So too is the effect upon those whose lives and families have been specifically impacted by the trauma of abuse. After considerable reflection, I feel compelled to share the following four expressions as a framework to contemplate how we – as a community dedicated to this University and its Catholic, Jesuit foundation – can discern and respond to these challenges, while simultaneously working to respect the rights of all involved.
First: Our commitment to the human dignity of every member of the community. In our Mission and Ministry initiatives at Gonzaga, we have been clear that the University – in following the teachings of Christ Jesus, and advancing the charism of the Society of Jesus – is deeply committed to policies and practices that reflect the dignity of the human person, justice, and solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, this circumstance can represent a renewed call to all of us to affirm the dignity of all people, and to imagine the ways in which we can actively stand in solidarity with those who have suffered from abuse of any kind. The awareness that incidents of harassment, abuse, and inappropriate sexual conduct do occur serve as an opportunity to underscore and reaffirm Gonzaga’s unwavering commitment to ethically, legally, and responsibly address all incidents that come to our attention. I encourage each of us to be familiar with the expectations outlined in the University Code of Conduct, and to be aware that the University has numerous policies and tools in place to facilitate appropriate response to anyone who has, or believes she or he may have been, assaulted, suffered abuse or bias. They include Gonzaga’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy, our ongoing education of employees about the nature of harassment and incidents of bias (as well as their responsibilities as mandatory reporters), and resources such as the Office of Community Standards, the Title IX Coordinator and the BIAS team. All of these resources and more can be found at Gonzaga.edu/report.
Second: The commitment of the Jesuits West Province, and the Diocese of Spokane, to zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. Both the Jesuits and the Spokane Diocese have had policies and protocols, as well as a process for responding to reports of abuse by members of the clergy, in place since 2002. These processes include the active involvement of lay (non-religious) professionals and lay Advocacy Coordinators. In the wake of the Pennsylvania Report, the Provincial of Jesuits West, Rev. Scott Santarosa, S.J, has recently reaffirmed his commitment to fully and completely adhere to the Province’s no tolerance policy. In the same way, Bishop Thomas E. Daly of the Diocese of Spokane has also recently issued a statement in the form of a video message regarding the ongoing abuse crisis in the Church.
Third: A commitment to equal access to education, and solidarity with victims of abuse and neglect. We as a community must remain committed to creating the kind of environment wherein all individuals – regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, marital or veterans status have a fair, equal opportunity to be nourished and supported in the pursuit of educational goals. We must continuously work at educating ourselves and each other about the various expressions of bias, harassment and abuse, and hold those who are found to have violated our commitments accountable. We must also have the courage to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. Fully repairing the pain of abuse may never be possible, but we must be and remain committed to continuously love, care for and protect members of our community, and resolve to seek justice.
Fourth: A call for us to engage these structural issues as a learning community. It seems to me that this present moment affords an opportunity for us, as a Catholic university, and as lay and religious colleagues, to engage courageously in difficult conversations about what systematic abuse within the Church compels us to learn, to know, and to do. As I shared in my reflection on Luke’s Gospel at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, I think that in this moment we too are “called to be apostles.” To this end, in the coming weeks I will be working with colleagues from Religious Studies, Mission and Ministry, the Jesuit Community and other areas of the University to create opportunities for intellectual engagement regarding these issues, including guest lectures, panel discussions, and related events. More information about this initiative will be forthcoming.
I share these thoughts with you today in the hope that we might together affirm the mutual commitment that stands at the heart of our Mission and our purpose: to work together, every day, to create a university dedicated to supporting and facilitating the educational aspirations of each and every member, and doing this work in the context of a community of care, responsibility and accountability. As individuals and as university, we are reminded that we have been called to be a people of hope, and a people of action. Let this time be a reminder of this, and a call for each of us to bring light and hope to each other, and to the world.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.