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Campus Engagement Task Force discusses next steps

| Tuesday, December 4, 2018

From Nov. 1 through Nov. 16, Notre Dame’s Campus Engagement Task Force hosted a series of listening sessions to gather the community’s input on the sexual abuse crisis facing the Catholic Church. The task force also collected anonymous responses through a feedback form through Nov. 16.

Jennifer Mason McAward, co-chair of the task force and director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, said the group was convened to gather thoughts and consider future actions in relation to the crisis.

“We had two facilitators who handled each session so there was continuity in leadership and at each session we asked three general questions,” Mason McAward said. “The first was what people’s reflections were on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The second question was how Notre Dame might respond educationally, administratively and pastorally. And then the third question related to how Notre Dame might proceed in terms of research and scholarship.”

Fr. Gerry Olinger, the vice president of mission engagement and church affairs and the other co-chair of the task force, said during listening sessions, members of the community expressed a consistent frustration with the Catholic Church’s handling of the sex abuse scandals.

“Certainly we heard the frustration, the anger that exists on campus and I think throughout a couple pieces: one was certainly about the abuse that happened and certainly real concern for the victims of sexual abuse,” Olinger said. “But we also began to hear as well, the same anger, frustration, expressed around the leaders of the Church who either perpetrated that abuse and or failed to act in the face of that abuse. A very clear desire from campus was the church to take strong action moving forward.”

Community members addressed their concerns and recommendations to both the University and the Catholic Church as a whole, Olinger said.

“I think both the responses and certainly the recommendations were directed both at the Church and at Notre Dame,” he said. “I think we’re, again, really in the midst of absorbing all of that, processing all of the responses to both the reactions as well as to the recommendations, but I think we did see both.”

When asked what recommendations community members had for Notre Dame, Olinger said the task force was processing the responses from the listening sessions and anonymous online feedback forms which community members could complete.

“I think at this point, we’re processing all the feedback and as a task force, really kind of thinking about how we want to formulate specific recommendations,” Olinger said. “So I think that’s really the work that’s happening right now and that will be forthcoming.”

At each listening session, the task force had two discussion facilitators and two recorders, who took notes on the conversations.

“The week of Thanksgiving … the task force really was immersed in reviewing all the data that was provided through the listening sessions and the online forms summarizing those [responses],” Olinger said. “We asked everyone to submit a summary by [Nov. 26] and then on Tuesday, we met with the task force as a whole, really to begin processing through both the processes from campus and recommendations.”

The task force is working under a tight schedule, Mason McAward said, with a goal of formulating its recommendations for the University by the beginning of next semester in January.

“I think the most important thing that we can communicate at this point is our profound gratitude to everybody who took the time to provide feedback,” she said. “It was a really powerful and profound thing for our task force to be trusted with the thoughts and feedback that we received and we feel so fortunate to have had so much thoughtful feedback.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a junior majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

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