Formation of a University Commission: Gonzaga’s Response to the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

As you are aware, the serious question of how the Catholic Church and its various ministries have responded over time to reports and cases of sexual abuse has [once again] been at the forefront of worldwide conversations, particularly since the grand jury report released in mid-August 2018 by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. The crisis came closer to home this fall and winter with the Jesuits West Province release of names of Jesuit priests with credible allegations of abuse toward minors and vulnerable adults, as well as with the media coverage of priests with credible allegations of abuse living in Cardinal Bea House at Gonzaga University, under Safety Plans established and administered by the Province.

Gonzaga University is proud of the many contributions its students, faculty, staff, and graduates have made to our community, region and the world over these past 132 years. From its founding and throughout all of that history, the Jesuits built and sustained the University, and have been and remain the sponsoring order of the institution.  The fact that there were Jesuit priests who violated both psychological and physical boundaries, their vows, and the sacred trust that others had placed in them is a source of deep pain and embarrassment for all those Jesuits who remain and daily labor, devoted to the teaching of the Gospel and the service of the faithful. It is painful to think of the lifelong consequences that abuse has upon its victims, and my conversations with members of our community have strengthened my resolve to do all that we can as a community to ensure future generations do not suffer from this same abuse of power.

Since the reports about Bea House this winter, I have engaged in many conversations with members of our community, including our Jesuits, Trustees and Regents, faculty, staff, students, and benefactors.  I am grateful to all those in the community that have attended the events this spring dedicated to engaging around specific questions of what happened at Bea House, as well as the broader systemic issues involving abuse of children and adults by priests.  Alongside these conversations, the leadership of our governing board (the Trustees) and I have this Spring been in focused discussion with the US West Jesuits Province, reviewing current protocols and agreements.  These conversations have been important, addressing numerous issues; a primary theme has been that of trust, and the desire to seek clarity and deeper understanding.

As I have met and spoken with many people, both within and outside of the University, about these matters it is clear that there is a desire on the part of many for a longer-term, sustained effort – one that seeks to more deeply understand and engage in the work of learning what the priest abuse crisis has to teach us as a Catholic and Jesuit university, and the Catholic Church as well.  My conversations have also revealed that there are many who are angry, grieving, doubting and questioning, and are looking for ways of developing a personal response to all of this.  As I mentioned in the first of several communications this past Fall, I believe there is a role that Gonzaga as a university must play in learning about and responding to the systematic issues that have plagued the Church.

Cognizant of the complexity and many dimensions involved with these matters, I have decided to appoint a University Commission whose charge will be to identify, discuss, and make recommendations to me regarding a set of formal actions the University ought to undertake in light of the clergy abuse crisis and our own institutional experience of it.  While I have discussed this Commission with a number of colleagues, I believe that in addition to appointed members it ought to draw from nominated and/or self-nominated individuals, including members of the faculty, staff, Jesuits, Trustees, students and potentially a representative of the local community.

If any current member of the University Community is willing to serve on this Commission, please communicate with me in writing and include a brief statement of interest, explaining why involvement with this effort is of particular value to you and the University.  I would be grateful to receive such expressions of interest by Friday, April 26th.  The announcement of the appointment of the Commission and its chairperson(s) will follow shortly thereafter. Members will meet this summer through the fall, with an initial set recommendations being shared by the end of the fall 2019 semester.

I do want to affirm once more a statement that I have made, in various forms, across time.  Gonzaga University is deeply committed to policies and practices that reflect the dignity of the human person, justice, and solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.  The awareness that incidents of harassment, abuse, and sexual misconduct 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 our policies and procedures, and to be aware that the University has numerous tools in place to facilitate appropriate response to anyone who has, or believes she or he may have been, harassed, assaulted, suffered abuse or bias.  All of these resources and more can be found at

Thank you.

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.
President, Gonzaga University
April 15, 2019