Since the founding of Georgetown University, its students have learned from, lived with and sought the guidance of religious leaders on campus. Of those leaders, 14 have been credibly or plausibly accused of sexual abuse, according to an investigation by The Hoya.
Their names are Fr. Engelbert M. Axer, S.J.; Fr. Michael L. Barber, S.J.; H. Cornell Bradley; Fr. Neil Carr, S.J.; Fr. Martin J. Casey, S.J.; Fr. Augustine J. Ferretti, S.J.; Fr. Thomas M. Gannon, S.J.; Fr. Jack Kennington; Bernard Knoth; Fr. Anthony McGinley; Fr. Neil P. McLaughlin, S.J.; Fr. Daniel C. O’Connell, S.J.; Fr. William J. Walsh, S.J.; and Sr. Lisa Zuccarelli.
The credibility of accusations against each priest is based on settled lawsuits, the review of Catholic Church authorities or admissions of guilt. Each priest’s affiliation with Georgetown was verified through media reporting, public church statements or university archival material. Though the known abuse periods of three named priests overlaps with their time at Georgetown, neither this report nor the university’s internal review discovered allegations of abuse on campus.
Georgetown confirmed all 14 priests were at some point affiliated with the university in a March 13 statement to The Hoya. Yet the university has publicly recognized abuse allegations against only four. One retained the title of professor emeritus at Georgetown until this week.
Identifying the 14
Of the 14 priests with Georgetown affiliations credibly or plausibly accused of sexual abuse, the university has acknowledged four — Barber, Casey, Ferretti and Walsh — drawing this list solely from a December 2018 report issued by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.
The full list of Georgetown-affiliated clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse, however, reaches far beyond the Maryland Province’s report.
O’Connell, who was not acknowledged in University President John J. DeGioia’s December statement, was a professor emeritus until Wednesday afternoon, according to Georgetown’s website. University officials were first notified of O’Connell’s abuse in 2009, according to a Georgetown University spokesperson.
Zuccarelli and Knoth both worked as administrators within the last 25 years — Zuccarelli in the School of Nursing from 1998 until 2003, and Knoth in the College from 1991 until 1995.
Georgetown was notified of a credible allegation of sexual abuse against Zuccarelli in November 2018, according to a university spokesperson. Knoth publicly resigned as president of Loyola University New Orleans in 2003 amid an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor deemed credible that year by the Chicago Province, now the Midwest Province.
The university also failed to acknowledge two Georgetown-connected Jesuits listed in the Maryland Province’s report: Bradley, who worked as a campus minister on the main campus for a year, and McLaughlin, who worked summers at Georgetown University Hospital for 18 years, were both listed as priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. Neither Bradley’s nor McLaughlin’s assignments at the university appear in the report, though the province has previously documented both.
In the last four months, the other four Jesuit provinces in the United States — Midwest, Northeast, West, and Central and Southern — also released lists of credibly accused priests, which included four more Jesuits with Georgetown connections.
The Midwest Province’s report, published in December 2018, named two former Georgetown Jesuits, Knoth and Gannon.
Knoth, who said he was contacted for the Georgetown presidency in a 2000 statement to The Maroon, Loyola New Orleans’ student newspaper, was credibly accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of a minor between 1986 and 1988.
Gannon, the director of the Woodstock Theological Center in Ida Ryan Hall from 1983 until 1986, was credibly accused of four separate periods of abuse, two while teaching in high schools and two while working as a minister.
Georgetown has also failed to acknowledge Axer, who represented the university on multiple occasions in the 1950s and was named in the West Province’s report, or Carr, a former student who went on to abuse two minors, according to the Northeast Province.
McGinley was named in a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting a two-year investigation into methods used by archdioceses across the state to protect known abusers in the church. He was a professor of child psychology and orthodontics between 1977 and 1987, according to university archival material. Kennington, who worked at Woodstock from 1981 until 1983, was publicly accused in 2002 of sexually abusing two siblings and has faced multiple lawsuits, including one filed last month. Georgetown has not publicly acknowledged either McGinley’s or Kennington’s work at the university.
Pray and Delay
Georgetown’s response to the clerical abuse crisis has mirrored that of the church for nearly two decades, both in rhetoric and action — often in contradiction to the efforts of student activists.
In January 2002, a Boston Globe investigation revealed a coordinated effort among powerful Boston priests to hide known sexual abusers within the clergy by shuffling predatory priests between assignments after learning of their behavior. This system protected abusers from facing criminal charges and often helped maintain their powerful positions within the church.
Georgetown formally responded to the Globe’s investigation three months later, in April 2002, with a Mass in Dahlgren Chapel to pray for the healing of survivors and abusers. In a discussion following the service, university chaplain Rev. Adam Bunnell called on the Georgetown community to recognize the immense scope of the crisis.
“We planned this event to shed light on the truth,” Bunnell said in his sermon.
Since 2002, the sexual abuse crisis has extended beyond Boston to hundreds of dioceses across the United States and the world, revealing similar patterns in which church officials silenced survivors while protecting their abusers in the clergy.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has counted 6,846 priests credibly accused of abuse and over 19,000 survivors, according to church watchdog Bishop Accountability. The FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has documented a strategy throughout the Catholic Church to maintain the stature of abusers, including closed-door settlements, opaque disciplinary proceedings and the continuous transfer of “troubled” priests.
As coverage of the crisis has developed since 2002, Georgetown’s response has stayed consistent.
After the Pennsylvania grand jury report, DeGioia implored the university community to develop a safer environment for survivors of abuse.
“The most vulnerable among us must be protected,” DeGioia wrote. “They deserve the very best work we are capable of providing.”
The letter did not mention Theodore McCarrick, who was awarded an honorary degree in 2004, or Donald Wuerl, who was awarded one in 2014. Both were named in the grand jury report last year — McCarrick for incidents of abuse, and Wuerl for protecting McCarrick’s status in the church.
Almost immediately, students called on the university to take accountability for its tangential involvement in the crisis.
By Sept. 21, only 17 days after DeGioia’s message, 1,376 Georgetown students signed a petition calling for the revocation of McCarrick and Wuerl’s honorary degrees. The editorial boards of The Hoya and the Georgetown Voice wrote in support of the petition.
But for months, Georgetown’s response focused on the future of the Catholic Church, rather than students’ calls for action.
The university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life convened three dialogues last fall, intended to outline paths forward for the church to address the issues presented in the grand jury report. None of the events was oriented toward Georgetown’s involvement in the crisis. Similar to the 2002 Mass, panelists called on the Georgetown community to pray for both survivors and abusers, with frequent condemnations of the act of sexual abuse.
While Georgetown invited panelists to discuss the abuse crisis, other Catholic universities that had previously bestowed honors upon McCarrick took action to condemn his behavior.
The same month as the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Fordham University and The Catholic University of America rescinded the honorary degrees they had awarded McCarrick.
Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, recognized the trauma the university’s honorees had inflicted on survivors.
“In taking these steps, we acknowledge the extraordinary and long-lasting harm done to children who were sexually abused by clergy members,” McShane wrote. “While we can never fully repair the sins of the past, we must respect the experience of abuse survivors.”
Georgetown waited for the Vatican to strip McCarrick of his status as a member of the clergy Feb. 19, seven months after the publication of the grand jury report, before revoking his degree.
Trusting the Church
Priests with records of abuse, including several Jesuits sent to Georgetown, have been transferred to Catholic and Jesuit universities without university officials being notified of the priest’s previous abuse. Though Georgetown’s hiring practices for Jesuits include criminal background checks, these checks do not list internal church settlements with survivors, leaving hiring committees in the dark when it comes to an abusive priest’s past transgressions.
In hiring Jesuits, Georgetown must often rely on the honesty of senior officials within the order to disclose documentation of abusive priests.
Standard protocol for transferring priests between dioceses and provinces requires the bishop who holds authority over the priest to certify they are in good standing within their religious order. This certification is typically required before a priest is allowed to perform public ministry within a new diocese.
In many cases, however, bishops have failed to notify local clergy of an incoming priest’s past abuse, leaving Georgetown without access to records that a Jesuit residing on or near its campus may be facing credible allegations of sexual assault.
Gannon, O’Connell and Walsh came to Georgetown’s campus following allegations of sexual assault that were not reported to university officials.
Beyond letters certifying good standing that depend upon the honesty of bishops, who have significant autonomy under canon law, Georgetown has hardly any ability to obtain an incoming Jesuit’s full record, according to Fr. John Beal, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America.
In addition to requiring criminal background checks, Georgetown also mandates any students, faculty, staff or Jesuits who interact with minors on campus or in university-affiliated programs abide by its protection of minors policy, according to a university spokesperson. The policy requires training to identify and prevent abuse of minors and mandates reporting of any suspected violations of the policy to the university.
If church officials misrepresent a priest’s standing within his religious order or fail to disclose his record, a university would face minimal liability, according to Rebecca Randles, a lawyer who represented two survivors of O’Connell’s abuse.
“If someone is intentionally hiding the fact that there have been allegations in the past, then the universities do, unbeknownst to them, accept these perpetrators,” Randles said in an interview with The Hoya. “The question then becomes, ‘What should a reasonable university do to ensure that there are no perpetrators who are being invited or otherwise teaching at the university?’”
Church officials cannot be depended on to hold abusive priests accountable, according to lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented over 1,000 survivors of clerical abuse.
“History has taught us that the Catholic Church cannot self-police,” Garabedian said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “They create their own criteria for naming an abuser.”
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This article was updated on March 15 to clarify that the report did not find allegations of abuse on campus, and to correct the location of Woodstock Theological Center before its close in 2013.