In its efforts to confront the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Georgetown University has fallen dramatically short by failing to look inward.
Georgetown has thus far neglected to take substantive action concerning its relationship to the scandal, failing to acknowledge the crisis’ effects on the university community or revoke the honorary degrees of two clerics directly implicated in predatory behavior. Worse, campus ministry recently used the abuse of children as leverage to garner donations.
On Oct. 25, the Office of Mission and Ministry sent an email to Catholic alumni, parents and past donors to campus ministry soliciting donations to the Roman Catholic Campus Ministry Fund.
“Your gift is more important today as we grapple with the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, work to heal it and those suffering while guiding young Catholics,” a bolded portion of the email read.
The email, signed by Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., was inappropriate and insensitive, reflecting Georgetown’s apparent inability to confront its own role in addressing the crisis.
While the OMM is justified in asking for donations, this request is abhorrent and shameful. To use a sexual abuse scandal for fundraising demonstrates an incomplete understanding of abuse’s consequences.
A Georgetown spokesperson has since apologized for this “inappropriate” mistake in an email to The Hoya.
The rhetoric of this email was particularly perturbing in the context of Georgetown’s misguided approach in the wake of the crisis.
Though the university frequently insists their goal is the “formation and training of our future young Catholic lay leaders,” as the OMM wrote in its fundraising email, panels and events have generally failed to provide students space to contribute. Talks have relegated students to the audience, and question-and-answer sessions have been dominated by non-student attendees.
The first event to include a student panelist, Erica Lizza (SFS ’19), was not held until Oct. 24 and featured only one student. The panel spoke little of Georgetown’s role in the crisis, focusing primarily on the Catholic Church’s best path forward. (Full disclosure: Lizza is a member of this editorial board.)
Going forward, Georgetown must listen to and incorporate the voices of students — especially Catholic students — as they struggle to trust their church.
The university’s structural dismissal of students’ voices has paired with its unwillingness to take action on matters closest to home.
Members of the university are not mere peripheral observers of this crisis. Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, both former archbishops of Washington, D.C., were implicated in the scandal. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals after being accused of sexual assault, and Wuerl resigned as archbishop over criticisms of his handling of subordinates accused of assault. Both men still hold honorary degrees from Georgetown despite widespread student activism since August and Wuerl’s Oct. 12 resignation.
The university’s continued delay in revoking McCarrick’s and Wuerl’s degrees is reprehensible and inexcusable. Honoring abusers and the men who protect them cannot be justified; Georgetown must take action immediately.
The university’s lukewarm approach to addressing the crisis has been evident from the beginning, and blame must be placed on the highest levels of administrators.
On Sept. 4, University President John J. DeGioia sent a universitywide email with the subject line, “Reflections on the Responsibilities of the University in this Critical Moment.” The email did not reference the clerical sexual abuse crisis until the seventh paragraph and failed to mention McCarrick and Wuerl — or their ties to Georgetown — at all. The university has assembled a working group composed of members of the board of directors in order to establish standards for honorary degrees and evaluate current recipients.
Georgetown’s leadership seems interested in offering suggestions for how the Catholic Church can move forward but unwilling to address the role it played in quietly allowing abusers and those who hid abuse to retain power without suffering consequences.
The university’s unwillingness to truly reconcile with the church’s deep issues mirrors the ambivalence that allowed cardinals and priests to abuse children for years without facing punishment.
Students deserve a functional, responsible campus ministry that puts their best interests first. Georgetown has put the OMM in a difficult situation by failing to act on McCarrick and Wuerl, and that failure must be addressed immediately. However, campus ministry owes and Georgetown as a whole its students honest programming that recognizes others’ suffering. The Georgetown community should withhold donations from the Office of Mission and Ministry until it recognizes and fully addresses the role the university has played in this scandal.
Georgetown’s attitude toward this crisis, as reflected by its abhorrently insensitive fundraising email, must change dramatically if the university is to fully address the breadth of clerical abuse — and the role it has played so far.