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Too little, too late

| Wednesday, February 20, 2019

This past week, University President Fr. John Jenkins finally made the obvious decision to revoke the honorary degree conferred on Theodore McCarrick in 2008. This decision to revoke the degree came only after the Vatican officially released its decision to defrock McCarrick, who had previously been a Cardinal, after it found the claims of his continual sexual abuse to be substantiated and surmised that egregious abuse of power had taken place.

At this point, however, the actions of the University in rescinding his honorary degree are far too little, and came far too late.

The accusations against McCarrick were upheld by many accounts and substantiated by the New York Archdiocese review board long before the Vatican had finished its official investigation into the claims against McCarrick.

While Jenkins attempted to reference the official Vatican ruling as his justification for waiting to revoke the degree, this reason is insufficient to explain why the University allowed a substantiated sexual abuser to hold an honorary degree.

The Vatican took especially long in its investigation and actions as it is the official acting body of the Church. It had to decide what official actions it would take against McCarrick. These deliberations eventually resulted in his defrocking. Clearly, the Vatican had a much greater responsibility in addressing the abuse and rectifying the situation than we did as a university. Therefore, the burden of proof in the actions they took was far greater.

All we had to do was take away a piece of paper that signified a simple honor.

The moral demands placed on these two institutions because of McCarrick’s disgusting misdeeds were vastly disproportionate and, as such, Notre Dame should have been quick to rescind the degree as soon as the claims were upheld by a third party.

But we were too slow.

Instead, we continually sent the message that we would shelter a substantiated sexual abuser in the name of Our Lady’s university, even in the wake of the continual new revelations in the Catholic Church sex scandal.

Furthermore, the decision to revoke the degree is far too little to address the disgusting nature of McCarrick’s crimes, and the failure in speed with which we addressed them. As one of the leading Catholic universities in America, we owe it to the survivors of his abuse as well as thousands of other survivors to provide a larger showing of action, empathy and understanding.

The two-sentence statement released by the University fails to convey this level of understanding and empathy. The statement actually does very little to denounce the actions of McCarrick and only references Jenkins’ original statement on the matter — a statement which also did little to adequately denounce the abuse and instead provided convoluted reasoning for refusing to rescind the honorary degree.

If we continue to wait for the official cue from the Holy See, we will fail as an institution in addressing many of the concerns that the University faces on an immediate basis. This situation should have been self-explanatory. The Pope had already asked McCarrick to resign and the New York Archdiocese had upheld the validity of the claims in their review. Therefore, we should have revoked his degree back in August rather than preserving some false sense of a burden of proof for substantiated sexual abusers in our own Church.

So, I guess, thanks to Jenkins for taking the basic action of revoking a degree that should have been revoked months ago. I Can’t really say much more than that.

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

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