This viewpoint discusses sexual abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
Our senior year began after the Pennsylvania grand jury report named 300 Catholic priests across the state who had sexually abused children over a span of 70 years. The sexual abuse crisis in the church has since permeated our ministry work on campus, which has spanned from organizing community reflections to pushing the university to revoke the honorary degrees of high-ranking clergy members accused of abuse and once lauded as members of the Georgetown family.
As active members in Georgetown’s Catholic community, we have both long been aware of a systemic lack of transparency and pattern of abuse within the Catholic hierarchy that have allowed the sexual abuse crisis to continue to this day.
News of Georgetown’s failure to publicly acknowledge at least seven Jesuit priests credibly accused of abuse who have had direct affiliations with this university, however, was a slap in the face.
Georgetown’s demonstration of willful ignorance hits close to home because the Jesuit order has been essential to our academic and faith formation. This negligence is particularly hurtful because it is yet another example of Georgetown acting in a way that is directly antithetical to our Jesuit education, which emphasizes the protection of the vulnerable, critical thinking dedicated to “uncovering truth and discovering meaning,” and a faith that does justice.
Through our participation in Catholic faith communities, organizing faith-based service projects and serving as ESCAPE and La Storta retreat leaders, we have rooted our four years at Georgetown in Ignatian spirituality, which has emotionally, mentally and spiritually formed who we are as people and the way we see the world.
Now, after learning about the seven abusive Jesuits and several other religious officials whom Georgetown has not acknowledged, we ask our university: How do we reconcile the spirit of Georgetown, a set of lessons that we believe is good and true, with this reality?
The Jesuits have always offered us a path forward through progressive and radical faith, facilitated specifically by clergy and staff members on this campus. The Jesuits, though obviously embedded within the Catholic Church, represented to us a critical tradition driven by a commitment to education, pushing us to challenge institutions and answer the call to justice.
The teachings of the Jesuits seem irreconcilable with the order’s deep implication in the abuse crisis — and its immoral behavior in its wake. These actions and Georgetown’s failure to acknowledge them make us question how we can continue to operate in Catholic spaces when the order that fostered them has broken our trust.
How do we reconcile participation in an institution that has silenced survivors and abused its power with our own commitment to seeking justice for survivors, both on campus and in the larger world? How do we reconcile the empowering and life-giving encounter with faith and community that we’ve had at Georgetown with this reality, that the church, the Jesuit religious order and our own university are all interwoven in this crisis? What does complicity look like in this context and how, once we’ve graduated in May, will we struggle with these questions away from the reflective spaces we’ve found and forged on campus?
Sometimes, answering these difficult questions means detaching ourselves from the hierarchy of the church as an institution that has failed us and focusing instead on our individual faith experiences. We wholeheartedly believe in the power of Ignatian contemplation, a faith that does justice and the rituals and relationships that we celebrate at Mass. Yet when the only way to access the joys of Catholic community, prayer and ritual is through the very institution that has hurt and betrayed us, we struggle to detach from abusive power structures without losing these key aspects of our faith.
Georgetown has repeatedly called for “cultural change” in response to the abuse crisis, but this change is impossible as long as the church, Jesuit leadership, and Georgetown itself lack transparency. From the Maryland Province’s practice of transferring abusive priests to this campus to Georgetown’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge former community members credibly accused of abuse, Jesuit leadership and this university have not only failed to protect and support survivors, but also to live up to the moral standards of the Ignatian teachings they seek to impart.
Only by reckoning with this history of abusive priests in our community can we begin to reconcile our faith — shaped by Jesuit values — with the actions of the institutions that profess them.
Grace Laria is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Julie Bevilacqua is a senior in the College. Both are members of 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.