Update: University Commission on Gonzaga’s Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis

On April 15, 2019, I announced the formation of a Commission to identify, discuss and make recommendations regarding a set of formal actions the University ought to undertake in response to the clergy abuse crisis. This communication built on my October message about our institutional commitments, especially as a community of learning and scholarship, “to engage courageously in difficult conversations about what systematic abuse within the Church compels us to learn, to know, and to do.” As we face the reality of sexual abuse in the Church, we join the efforts of other Catholic universities while also acknowledging that we must engage in this endeavor from our particular context and experience.

As a Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic university, we are called to participate in the positive transformation of our cultures and societies, an endeavor that must be made tangible and concrete in light of the reality of priests with credible allegations of abuse who had ties to Gonzaga – including those who once lived at Cardinal Bea House. This work demands of us an authentic reckoning with our own institutional experience and history, as well as a commitment to stand with those who are marginalized, vulnerable and made to suffer. The desire to embody these commitments prompted the formation of a Commission to guide and engage our university community in discovering how best to stand in solidarity with victim-survivors of abuse, how to heal and repair the many relationships harmed by abuse and its cover-up in our extended communities, and how to demonstrate leadership and cultivate partnerships in contributing to redemptive solutions for systemic institutional and social failures. In so doing we hope to deepen and strengthen our understanding of how a university that strongly identifies itself as Jesuit and Catholic proceeds through this complex space.

I am pleased to share that Dr. Michelle Wheatley, Acting Vice-President for Mission and Ministry, and Dr. Megan McCabe, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, have agreed to co-chair the Commission on Gonzaga’s Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis.

Both bring thoughtful lay perspectives and experiences to the Commission’s work. Dr. McCabe is a Catholic moral theologian focusing on the cultural foundations for sexual violence and moral responsibilities for social transformation. She founded and co-led a Theology, Sexuality, and Justice interest group for the Catholic Theological Society of America, co-chairs the “Contextualizing the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis” Seminar for the American Academy of Religion, and has been leading a task force for the Department of Religious Studies in response to Catholic sexual abuse.

Dr. Wheatley’s work focuses on Ignatian approaches to leadership and organizational development. As the chief mission officer for the University, her role is to inspire active engagement and shared responsibility for the fulfillment of Gonzaga’s mission. Furthermore, Dr. Wheatley has spent much of the last year engaging in conversation and reflection with University faculty, staff, students and leadership about the Bea House reports, as well as the broader, systemic issues involving abuse of children and adults by priests over many decades.

I am also pleased to announce that the following people accepted the invitation of the co-chairs and have generously agreed to dedicate their time and perspective on these issues by serving as Commission members:

  • Tim Clancy, S.J., B.A. ’80, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Philosophy
  • Patrick McCormick, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies
  • Fernando Ortiz, ’12, Ph.D., ABPP, Director of Counseling Services
  • Lindsay Panigeo, Gonzaga Class of 2020
  • Steven D. Robinson, ’78, Attorney at Law and Chair of the Board of Regents
  • Vincent Salyers, Ed.D, RN, ANEF, Dean of the School of Health Sciences
  • Jerri Shepard, Ed.D, Associate Professor, School of Education
  • Ed Taylor, Ph.D., (BA ’82, MA ‘83), Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, University of Washington, and Gonzaga Trustee
  • Wendy Thompson, Director of Tribal Relations
  • Elizabeth Young, M.Sc, Gonzaga Class of 2015 and University of Washington School of Medicine Class of 2022

The Commission held two organizational meetings in June and engaged in a multi-day retreat earlier this month to establish context regarding the various dimensions of the University’s relationship to Catholic sexual abuse. The Commission will continue meeting throughout the summer and fall with the intention of providing some initial recommendations to me before the end of the calendar year.

This Commission will seek to involve the entire campus community in its work. As such, further communications with updates and information about ways to engage in this effort will come from Commission Chairs, Drs. McCabe and Wheatley.

As we engage in conversation and reflection about Catholic sexual abuse, I also want to express care and concern for those in our community who have suffered abuse and its effects. If you need to make a report or seek out support resources, please see the statement at the bottom of this email.

I want to express my deep appreciation to Drs. Wheatley and McCabe for their capable leadership and commitment to this vital action, and to those who have stepped forward to serve. I also am grateful to everyone who expressed interest in joining the Commission. Thank you for your commitment to this discernment, and know that there will be opportunities for you to contribute as the work proceeds.

I encourage all members of the University community to watch for notices from the Commission regarding listening sessions and other opportunities, and invite you to participate as your time allows.

Thank you.

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil., President
July 22, 2019

Gonzaga embraces a commitment to respect, protect and care for every individual. As such, the safety of our students, staff and visitors to our campus is a top priority, and the University has no tolerance for sexual misconduct of any form. Please visit www.gonzaga.edu/report for both University and external resources (including the US Jesuits West Province) to support confidential and non-confidential reporting, medical care, victims, advocacy, and counseling services.