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Dear Father Jenkins: let us practice what we preach

| Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It has happened again. Yet another clerical sex abuse case in the Catholic church has appeared on the front pages of our national and international newspapers. For over seventy years, over a thousand survivors experienced sexual abuse at the hands of over three hundred priests in Pennsylvania. And it seems again that the Church did nothing.

This scandal has been corrupting the Church since 2002, when the problem and subsequent cover-up was first discovered in Boston. The most recent report issued by the grand jury uncovers new and unimaginable horrors. As the New York Times reported, a priest — no, that’s the wrong word, if guilty, a criminal — was allowed to stay in the ministry even after raping a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

I believe most of us in the Catholic community reasonably expected the Church leaders to clean house after the original scandal was uncovered. Day two after the eruption of the Boston scandal should have been D-Day for criminals masquerading as devout members of the Cloth. The Church should have immediately launched an independent, full, comprehensive and centralized investigation into every single diocese. There should have been zero concern for complications, friendships or any sort of special consideration, with all abusers immediately being excommunicated from the Church.

But the 15-year delay in dealing with this criminal conduct comes in the midst of the story of high-ranking former Cardinal McCarrick’s vile pattern of sexual abuse, resulting in his resignation. The Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark paid a $180,000 settlement to two priests who accused McCarrick of sexual abuse. Additionally, a report received by the Archdiocese of New York alleged that McCarrick sexually abused a teenager forty years ago, in addition to repeatedly abusing members of the Seminary where he worked. The accusations have been substantiated by a review board of the New York Archdiocese and McCarrick is now awaiting his canonical trial.

McCarrick is a recipient of an honorary degree from Our Lady’s University, which Father Jenkins has refused to revoke until the canonical trial is concluded and a verdict is reached, The University has justified the delay in revocation on the basis that the revocation of Bill Cosby’s honorary degree occurred after he was found guilty in a criminal trial.

To equate these two situations is to equalize two vastly different events. While both men committed crimes, Cosby was an actor and McCarrick was at the highest echelons of our Church leadership. A church leader and sexual predator who himself was tasked with ousting other sexual predators. It is no wonder then that new incidents of abuse continue to be uncovered.

I believe it is our duty as the Notre Dame community to lead the way in publicly denouncing this corruption in our Church. We should not wait for a finalized verdict in a canonical trial to take away an honorary degree from a substantiated sexual abuser. In the end, the “substantiated” allegations against Cardinal McCarrick impact our Catholic community and the victims affected by McCarrick’s abuse the same.

This is a request for our University to not take the easy way. The substantiated allegations of disgusting and vile acts committed by McCarrick, and other sexual predators in the Church, demands greater action from our community. It demands a harsh and swift denunciation as well as an investigation to clean house of all those abusing their power. Rather than wait until the survivor reports become so numerous that they can no longer be ignored, at the least we must ensure that all members of our community and our Church are safe.

Many of these revelations come too little too late for survivors who have suffered at the hands of miscreant clergy for years. But there are some actions we can still take by immediately revoking the degree of Cardinal McCarrick, beginning a conversation about the issue — take a minute to read Campus Ministry’s response — and taking steps to ensure that similar abuse is not being committed in our own community. Sure, revoking the honorary degree of McCarrick is symbolic, but it is a symbol of the beginning of the end of the 15-year nightmare that began in Boston and has affected Catholic communities everywhere.

In the end, I am proud to be a member of the Notre Dame community, which is why I feel so many of us would hope that the University would revoke McCarrick’s degree. We can no longer ignore the criminal conduct of a few. Proven abusers should be immediately ousted from the Church and sent to jail (if the statute of limitations has not been exceeded, as it has for McCarrick), and not to a new Parish, or to an institution or to live a “life of prayer and penance.”

We must address this issue for what it is: a gross, disgusting abuse of power. It is not an issue of LGBTQ members of the Catholic community, nor is it something that simply requires our hope and prayers. This demands action. As Father Jenkins “has no reason to question” the the allegations, and as Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation, the degree should be immediately revoked.

These abusers undermine and corrupt our Church and the values of our Notre Dame community. So please, Father Jenkins, join the ranks of numerous other universities and do the right thing: revoke the degree of a “substantiated” sexual abuser.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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