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Observer Editorial: Revoke McCarrick’s honorary degree

| Friday, September 14, 2018

In June, the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, was suspended from public ministry by the Holy See when the Archdiocesan Review Board of New York determined an allegation of sexual abuse by McCarrick was found “credible and substantiated.” Stripped of his cardinal title, McCarrick is now awaiting the results of a canonical trial in Vatican City.

Notre Dame awarded McCarrick an honorary degree in 2008. In a statement on Aug. 2, the University administration said it will wait for the results of the canonical trial to “take action regarding McCarrick’s honorary degree.”

The Observer Editorial Board strongly urges the University to reverse this decision and rescind McCarrick’s honorary degree.

McCarrick is unquestionably guilty of sexual abuse of a minor in at least one instance. In the particular case considered by the Review Board, McCarrick was found to have sexually abused a teenage altar boy in 1971.

In the months following McCarrick’s suspension, allegations of even more sexual abuse involving McCarrick continue to surface. Many of the survivors’ stories contain similar accounts of predatory behavior by McCarrick.

Why does the University need more? “The University finds the alleged actions reprehensible and has no reason to question the review board’s findings,” the statement reads. However, “it recognizes that McCarrick maintains his innocence and that a final decision in the case will come only after a canonical trial in Rome.” In the University’s view, this stance “respects not only the rights of those involved but also the adjudicatory process itself.”

But after the facts of McCarrick’s sexual abuse have been substantiated, this reasoning — respect for the process — reads as a spineless commitment to preserving precedent. For this is not the first controversy regarding sexual abuse and honorary degrees the University has dealt with this year — in April, the administration published a similar statement regarding the conviction of Bill Cosby, explaining that Notre Dame elected to wait for a conviction to revoke Cosby’s honorary degree, despite the clear evidence of guilt. Here, as with Cosby’s case, the University is choosing to do what is convenient, and is hoping to save face, as opposed to doing what is right.

The University has now established a dangerous and disappointing standard for how it will deal with allegations of sexual assault moving forward. The decision to revoke Cosby’s degree came well after more than 50 allegations of sexual assault, Cosby’s arrest and a recording of Cosby himself admitting that he would often administer Quaaludes to women against their will.

As with the Cosby case, the University’s choice concerning McCarrick’s degree reflects little concern for the moral justice or respect for the survivors of sexual abuse, and every concern with the public perception of the University.

But in this instance, we believe Notre Dame has an even greater responsibility to act decisively. As the premier Catholic academic institution in America, the University is putting itself in reprehensible company when it “protects” its image by defending the highest-ranking clergyman in the American Church who had his title stripped for child sex abuse.

Considering where the Catholic Church stands in the United States at the moment, especially in light of the Philadelphia Grand Jury report, and other exposes of widespread abuse and cover-ups, Notre Dame’s decision to not immediately and definitively declare its renouncement of McCarrick sends a chilling message to not only the Notre Dame community, but also to the Church as a whole.

The Catholic University of America and Fordham University have both already revoked their honorary degrees given to McCarrick. Every day Notre Dame’s stance remains unchanged is another day of tacit passivity about what McCarrick has done.

In April, The Observer Editorial Board criticized the University’s response to Bill Cosby in an editorial similar to this one:

“If the University had revoked Cosby’s degree earlier, it would have established a clear, rigorous code of moral conduct for its honorary degree recipients. In particular, the University would have upheld a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence in all forms, one that extends to all members of the Notre Dame community — honorary or not.

“Instead, the University took a half-step, one which evaded moral responsibility by resting its decision on a legal technicality.”

In light of the University’s inaction toward McCarrick, these words continue to hold true today. With this decision, Notre Dame fails to uphold its zero-tolerance policy toward sexual abuse. The University says it “has always stood for values in a world of facts” and, according to the Review Board, the facts indicate that McCarrick is guilty. If Notre Dame were to live up to these values, any person guilty of sexual assault should be punished.

In upholding this decision, Notre Dame has failed to uphold the values it claims to place at the heart of the University.

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