An Office of Mission and Ministry fundraising email sent Oct. 25 that linked the importance of financial donations to Georgetown University with the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis has come under criticism from alumni and students.
The Office of Mission and Ministry’s email blended the office’s intentions of communicating its programming on the sexual abuse crisis and its requests for financial donations to support that programming, a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The spokesperson described the request for funds in the context of sexual abuse as “inappropriate” and apologized.
“As a Catholic and Jesuit university, we are committed to using our intellectual, spiritual, and communal life together to promote dialogue on the political and religious issues of our time and ensure that these cover-ups never happen again,” the spokesperson wrote. “Accompanying and empowering our students, particularly through this difficult time in the Church, remains our primary focus.”
“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,” the Oct. 25 email read in bold at the start of the second paragraph of the email.
“As we have settled into the new school year, the chaplains and staff of Mission and Ministry acknowledge the heaviness of heart that so many members of the Georgetown community are feeling due to the ongoing crises surrounding sexual abuse, abuses of power and failure of those in authority to protect the vulnerable,” the email continued.
Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Gregory Schenden, S.J., who signed the letter, and Vice President for Mission and Ministry Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., have not responded to multiple requests for comment as of 1 a.m. Friday.
The email, sent with the subject line “Update from the Catholic Chaplaincy,” asked for donations to the Office of Mission and Ministry to support “the formation and training of our future Catholic lay leaders with a gift of any size today.”
The email comes after allegations of sexual misconduct against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick, who served as archbishop of Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2006, resigned from the College of Cardinals in July after allegations of sexual abuse, some of which he has denied and others he has not responded to.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl was implicated in the misconduct after a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August raised questions over his handling of sexual abuse while he was bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Wuerl resigned as archbishop of Washington on Oct. 12, but has defended his record on protecting survivors of sexual abuse.
Alumni took to social media to express their disapproval of the email, with many connecting their outrage to the honorary degrees currently held by McCarrick and Wuerl. Irene Koo (COL ’16) criticized the university on Twitter for its “use [of] the sexual abuse crisis as a fundraising opportunity, especially when Georgetown has yet to rescind its honorary degrees to Cardinals Wuerl and McCarrick.”
“Not only is this in shamefully poor taste, but it is also a slap in the face to survivors of sexual assault and to the entire faith community struggling with the ongoing revelations of abuse,” Koo wrote in a letter addressed to Schenden that she posted on Twitter. “This email speaks of ‘betrayal of trust’ and ‘emotional trauma,’ even as Georgetown University has yet to rescind its Honorary Degrees to a known sexual abuser and those who were complicit in shielding abusers.”
Barbara Anne Kozee (SFS ’17) said she was disappointed by the email and, in a letter to Bosco and Schenden, similarly invoked honorary degrees in criticizing the university.
“In light of the sexual abuse crisis which you mention in this email, I cannot in good faith donate to an institution that upholds its Honorary Degrees to abusers and to those who were complicit in covering up abuse,” she wrote in her letter to Bosco and Schenden.
While Kozee praised the university for addressing sexual abuse through supporting community dialogue, she said the university needs to go farther.
“Our Jesuit values call us to contemplation in action,” Kozee wrote in the letter. “This means not just talking about an issue, but taking real action when we see injustice in the world.”
While the email from the Office of Mission and Ministry was addressed to alumni and parents, some students on campus similarly condemned the email.
Grace Laria (SFS ’19), who has led a petition to rescind McCarrick’s and Wuerl’s honorary degrees, called any efforts by the Office of Mission Ministry to address sexual abuse without calling for the revocation of former Cardinals McCarrick and Wuerl’s honorary degrees “hollow.”
“I understand that this email describes donations as going to programming generally ‘supporting the formation and training of our future Catholic lay leaders,’ which is crucial given the crisis of leadership in the Catholic Church, but I, as a member of the Catholic community at Georgetown, cannot feel empowered in my faith by the university until Georgetown rescinds the Honorary Degrees awarded to Cardinals Wuerl and McCarrick,” Laria wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university has put together an “ad hoc working group” composed of members of the board of directors that is set to examine issues related to the honorary degrees, as well as a review of those given to McCarrick and Wuerl, according to a university spokesperson.