What Catholic universities are doing to address the sex abuse crisis

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Late last summer, as accusations of abuse against then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick surfaced, a grand jury report from Pennsylvania detailed decades and hundreds of cases of clerical abuse, and dioceses began listing their priests accused of sexual abuse, lay Catholics horrified by the news grasped for something they could do.

Some started letter-writing campaigns, prayer campaigns or petitions. Others launched anonymous watchdog websites. A social media campaign with the hashtag #SackClothandAshes encouraged the laity to offer fasting and sacrifices for the sins of the clergy.

Now, several Catholic universities have announced how they’re joining in the reform efforts.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. recently announced the launch of ‘The Catholic Project’, an initiative aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

Leaders at the university have said that as the pontifical university in the U.S., CUA is uniquely situated to respond to the crisis in a number of ways.

“CUA has a unique place in the American Catholic landscape, being sort of the bishop’s university that has a special relationship with the Vatican, but it’s also a lay-led institution,” Stephen White, who was named executive director of the project, told CNA.

It also makes sense geographically for CUA to respond to the crisis, White said, since it sits across the street from headquarters of the U.S. bishop’s conference and is in Washington, D.C., the same city where the now-laicized McCarrick had previously served as cardinal and archbishop.

Furthermore, White said, CUA has a host of invaluable resources at its fingertips.

“(CUA) has all of these assets at its disposal – a law school, a canon law faculty (the only one in the country), theologians, social workers who’ve been working on these questions for decades now,” White said. “It’s sort of a perfect place for a response to the crisis.”

But what form will that response take? There are many, White said.

“It’s sort of an all-of-the-above approach which is sort of why the name of this project came to be ‘The Catholic Project,’” White said.
“We came to realize that there were so many aspects to this and so many things the University can do, that we chose a broader, more generic name.”

Some of those aspects of response began before The Catholic Project existed, such as listening sessions the university hosted with students, a forum where students could vent their frustrations and fears about the crisis. It included a panel discussion “Church in Crisis” series, which included panel discussions about the crisis.

One of the upcoming initiatives of the project will be a collaboration with the USCCB, which will bring bishops together with abuse victims who want to share their story and help the Church heal.

“(They) understand that the Church needs bishops, and they understand that if the Church is going to heal from this, and move forward from this, that the bishops need to understand the survivor’s perspective and that survivors have something to give to heal the Church, even though they are the ones who are least responsible for where we are,” White said.

The project will also be promoting research into sociological questions surrounding the crisis, White said, such as: “What was it that made the abuse spike like it did in the middle of the 20th century? Why did that happen? Was this unique to the Catholic Church or were there other institutions who saw similar spikes? Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

Another part of the project will work with the business school to come up with ways to help priests and bishops be better managers of their parishes and dioceses.

“When you have an organization that’s run transparently and efficiently and well, you’re less likely to have parts of the organization where bad things can fester,” White said.

“So there’s lots of different components to (the project),” he added.

White also recognized that academic work and research are not going to solve completely the problem.

“But it’s important, and the work that’s going to have to be done in chanceries, and parishes, and bishop’s conferences, is work that can be helped by the things that we’re going to be doing at CUA,” he said.

Other Catholic universities and colleges are responding in similarly strong and broad ways.

Fordham University in New York recently announced a lecture titled “Reckoning and Reform: New Horizons on the Clergy Abuse Crisis” as a part of their ongoing response to the abuse crisis.

David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told CNA that the event will be a two-part presentation aimed at helping people understand the crisis and what can be done moving forward.

“People are upset and understandably just aghast at what is going on, but in order to find some solutions we have to figure out what has happened,” Gibson told CNA.

Gibson said that by hosting the event in the late afternoon and evening, he hoped to catch some “Catholic regular working folks who are vitally interested in this kind of thing and they can attend,” he said.

“Academic conferences are good and a lot of people are doing those kinds of things, but I think it's also really important that we do things that can get regular Catholics coming to attend them and to get informed on these kind of things so it's not just ‘professional Catholics’,” he said.

Gibson added that Catholic universities and colleges will be “indispensable” in the response to the sex abuse reform, for several reasons: because of their vast array of resources, because, as lay institutions, they now have more credibility with many Catholics than the bishops, and because they are positioned all throughout the country, where they can reach many people.

Another prominent Catholic institution of higher education, the University of Notre Dame, recently published a statement outlining the ways that university has and will continue to address the abuse crisis.

Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame, noted in the statement that in October 2018 the university created two task forces to being the work of reform: a Campus Engagement Task Force, which “was charged with facilitating dialogue and listening to the observations and recommendations of our campus community,” and the Research and Scholarship Task Force, which “considered ways in which Notre Dame might respond and assist the Church in this crisis through its research and scholarship.”

He then outlined both the immediate and ongoing steps the university will take to address the crisis, as informed by the task forces.

As for immediate steps, Jenkins said the university will “initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion.” The focus of the first event will be “where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed.”

The second event “will focus not only on the issue of sexual abuse, considered narrowly, but also on the broader questions the current crisis raises, such as structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures, and the continued accompaniment of survivors.”

The university will also be making research grants available “across a wide range of disciplines that will address issues raised by the current situation. In accord with this recommendation, the President’s Office will provide up to $1 million in the next three years to fund research projects that address issues emerging from the crisis.”

For ongoing efforts to address sex abuse in the Church, the university will continue to “encourage and share relevant research and scholarship … with the goal of producing recommendations for ensuring that seminaries and houses of religious formation are safe environments free from sexual harassment.”

It will also “train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis,” through graduate programs in theology, teacher and leadership formation programs, and catechist training programs, which are all “committed to training ministers and teachers to be aware of issues of sexual abuse and policies and behaviors needed to prevent it.”

Jenkins also noted that university will “redouble” its efforts in preventing and addressing cases of sexual assault that occur on Notre Dame’s campus.

“As I join others in praying for survivors, I will do what I can to prevent these terrible offenses. I encourage everyone, each in their own respective positions and roles, to contribute to real and lasting change that will prevent sexual assault and abuse, in the Church and outside it, and to support survivors,” Jenkins noted.

“To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”

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  1. American Priest authored by Wilson Miscamble CSC gives us the life of great Am educator Fr T Hesburgh. Hesburgh Holy Cross religious priest associated with Land O Lakes and the Jesuits in secularization of Catholic ed the goal identity with world standards of scholarship the method complete freedom from Catholic belief and presumed stricture. Sandro Magister as usual ahead of the game cites rec deceased Jesuit scholar Felix Tilliette and his sudden remarkable disassociation from the secularist drift of ‘Jesuitism’. “The materialist mentality reigns and extends itself without being contrasted by the collective conscience. God is absent from hearts. The innocent and the victim are worth less than the guilty. A society that moves heaven and earth against the death penalty and, at the same time, justifies and promotes free abortion, is at the lowest point of the scale of perversion. Our age, one of the darkest in history, nonetheless sees the blossoming of sublime sacrifices, heroism, examples of holiness” (Tilliette). Father John Jenkins CSC president of Notre Dame the greatest of Catholic ed institutions seems part of a counter reformation within Catholicism. No better place to start than on the university level particularly if Hierarchy have largely drifted toward Modernism. There does seem a gathering, a nuclei of Catholic intellectuals and clergy with renewed deeper appreciation of the Faith we have begun to lose sight of.

  2. Catholic higher education plans to do some of the heavy lifting. Good news. Translation: The 1967 Land o’ Lakes Declaration (insulating Catholic universities from any Church affirmation of the universal natural law) wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    Stephen White, CUA executive director of the new and promising “Catholic Project,” explains: “Has the Dallas Charter (the bishop’s previous abuse prevention plan) worked? And if it has worked, what parts of it have worked? Are there parts that have been implemented but that didn’t really make much of a difference, or parts that worked, and what are those parts?”

    BUT, nothing here yet about what parts are MISSING altogether in the 2002 Dallas Charter…

    The 2004 Jay College Report found that four out of five (80 percent) of the offenses involved young teenager boys, not infants (the evasive euphemism “pedophilia”). MANY DISMISS the clear homosexual implication by pointing to the follow-up 2011 Jay Report finding that homosexual priests “were not significantly more likely to sexually abuse minors than priests with no same-sex sexual behavior in-seminary.”

    HOWEVER, and beyond a cursory reading of the incomplete 2011 Executive Summary, the COMPLETE FINDINGS (2011, Chapter 2) go on to distinguish between seminarians engaged in pre-seminary and/or in-seminary same-sex behavior.

    A KEY FINDING is curiously OMITTED from the summary: “However, after considering pre-seminary and in-seminary sexual behavior separately, only in-seminary [not pre-seminary] same-sex sexual behavior was SIGNIFICANTLY RELATED [caps added] to the increased likelihood of a male child victim” (italics added).

    THAT IS, the much-cited Jay Reports also found that those straight or homosexual/celibate incoming seminarians who are groomed/victimized in the seminaries then go on to victimize young males as their target “opportunities”. A two-step HOMOSEXUAL CONNECTION is actually PROVED rather than disproved.

    Which brings us back to the CURIOUS LANGUAGE of the 2002 Charter. More than simply “intensifying” (?) the existing Charter, each of the USCCB members at their JUNE meeting should DEMAND totally new language…

    From the current USCCB website, an earlier 2018 revision to the charter includes only this band-aid to Article 6: “Changes were made to emphasize that all those who have contact with minors [formerly those in “positions of trust”] abide by standards of behavior and APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES [caps added].” “Appropriate boundaries” meaning (?) an age group boundary, still deflecting attention from, and giving a pass to “consenting adults”? Specifically, those consenting adult priests and seminarians who now redefine “celibacy” as not applying to their homosexual (rather than any male/female) relations?

    If Hamlet had the microphone in June: “A secularly-“relevant” and gangrenous non-church, or a crucified and evangelizing real-Church, that is the question.” (This rather than blasé obfuscations of, say, Blase Cardinal Cupich or James Martin, SJ!)

  3. Boy,that should take care of everything. Let’s see – conferences, courses, lectures, task forces. H-m-m-m, did we leave out anything? All schools could form a competition to see which university could kick the ball furthest down the field.

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