This viewpoint discusses sexual abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
After The Boston Globe’s investigation of clerical sex abuse was released in 2002, many of us Catholics were shocked to learn that some of the priests we considered part of our family were abusers. As Hoyas, it is even more shocking and disheartening that some of these abusers were once beloved members of our Georgetown family.
As those of us who have close relationships with priests know, they are more than just spiritual leaders: They can be teachers, confidants and friends. Because of their spiritual role, we often hold their advice at the same or even at a higher regard than that of our biological family. Unfortunately, the abusive priests knew the amount of trust we placed in them. They saw a power dynamic and, rather than using it to further God’s will, used it to commit their sickening sins.
While nothing can excuse the terrible acts of the 14 priests who were once trusted by the Georgetown community, we should still welcome the Jesuits on our campus as mentors and members of our family and focus our efforts toward advocating for change within the Catholic Church to ensure that sexual abuse by priests never happens again.
Though certain Jesuits have acted in awful ways, the vast majority of Jesuits at Georgetown have served with honor, and we should be proud to have them as members of our Georgetown family. They are nationally recognized professors, serve the impoverished and conduct research around the world, to name a few of their accomplishments. The Jesuits founded our university on their values, separating Georgetown from other great institutions.
While students and professors have come and gone and Washington, D.C., has evolved around us, the influence of Jesuits has remained at this university. They are our spiritual leaders who encourage the Georgetown community to incorporate the Jesuit values in our daily lives. They help us to understand the basic foundation of our university: utraque unum, the unification of faith and reason.
The actions of some appalling priests from years ago should not affect our perception of the inspiring Jesuits who have been so integral to our Georgetown identity.
Skepticism of clergy has understandably risen as a result of the clerical sex abuse crisis. The unfortunate symptom is that many innocent priests become hindered in their ability to form positive relationships with laypeople. It would be a shame to see that same symptom affect the many innocent Jesuits at Georgetown.
Our efforts to remedy the situation should not be focused on targeting the Jesuits currently on our campus; rather, we should be focusing on advocating for reform within the entire Catholic Church. On Feb. 21, in an effort to prevent future incidents and restore faith in the Church, Pope Francis addressed this crisis during a summit at the Vatican with Church leaders, and called on those leaders to “implement shared procedures for the examination of the charges, the protection of the victims and the right of defense of the accused.”
As one of the most prominent Jesuit institutions in the world, Georgetown should assist the Church in implementing its goals. With the connections that Georgetown has had to abusive priests, the university must educate our community about clerical sex abuse and about what we can do as lay people. The university must also take action to prevent future incidents. It is not enough to only talk about change; we must actively pursue it within the Church to protect one another from future abuse.
Despite the evil deeds of some of those who once held their place, we should still appreciate the Jesuits currently here. While some may see the Jesuits differently now, we should keep in mind that the Jesuits on our campus are still the same people we knew and trusted a few days ago. They are still the same beloved members of our Georgetown family.
Ryan Anderson is a junior in the Nursing and Health School. He is an active member in the Catholic community.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-7080); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. at 202-742-1727. To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s interim Title IX coordinator at 202-687-9183 or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.