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University to revoke former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s honorary degree

| Saturday, February 16, 2019

Notre Dame is rescinding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s honorary degree, the administration announced in a statement Saturday.

The decision comes in response to the results of the Vatican’s canonical trial, which defrocked McCarrick on Saturday after finding he had broken his vows as a priest by sexually abusing minors and adults.

“The Vatican has announced the conclusion of the adjudicatory process against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, finding that he transgressed his vows, used his power to abuse both minors and adults and violated his sacred duty as a priest,” the statement said. “In accord with University President Rev. John I. Jenkins’ statement of Aug. 2, 2018, the University of Notre Dame is rescinding the honorary degree conferred in 2008.”

The revocation announcement also comes after institutions including Fordham University, Catholic University of America and the University of Portland — a fellow Congregation of the Holy Cross institution — rescinded honorary degrees from McCarrick.

Claims of McCarrick’s sexual abuse were brought forth in June following a report the Archdiocese of New York received. A review board of the New York Archdiocese found the accusations to be “credible and substantiated,” and McCarrick resigned from his position at the Pope’s request later that month.

However, Notre Dame initially held off on revoking McCarrick’s degree, the honorary degree of law awarded to him when he delivered the University Commencement address in 2008, in anticipation of the trial’s verdict.

“While the University finds the alleged actions reprehensible and has no reason to question the review board’s findings, it recognizes that McCarrick maintains his innocence and that a final decision in the case will come only after a canonical trial in Rome,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said in the Aug. 2 statement.

The administration’s decision to wait for a final verdict from the canonical trial before rescinding McCarrick’s degree prompted members of the community and religious organizations to call for Jenkins to reverse his decision, and Monday, student senate voted unanimously in favor of a resolution for the degree’s revocation.

This is the second time the University has decided to rescind an honorary degree, the first being the honorary degree Bill Cosby received in 1990, and Jenkins pointed out in his Aug. 2 statement that “this action was taken only after judicial proceedings in criminal court concluded with a guilty verdict.”

Cosby was found guilty April 27 of penetration with lack of consent, penetration while unconscious and penetration after administering an intoxicant in a case brought forward by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand. Constand — in a story similar to those of many of Cosby’s other accusers — said the actor and comedian drugged her in order to sexually assault her in 2004. She is one of more than 50 women who accused Cosby of sexual assault.

As with Cosby, Jenkins said in his earlier statement regarding McCarrick’s degree, the University would await the case’s conclusion before making a final decision about McCarrick’s degree.

“While the allegations in this case are most grave, as they were in the case of Bill Cosby, we believe it respects not only the rights of those involved but also the adjudicatory process itself to allow that process to reach a conclusion before taking action,” Jenkins said in the statement.

On Nov. 9, Crux released an interview with Jenkins regarding McCarrick in which he said, “There’s a tendency, and I don’t think it’s a helpful tendency in this kind of situation, to turn the perpetrators into monsters.

“[The tendency is] just to imagine that they are thoroughly corrupt people, but the problem is that it’s not true. It’s a part of their lives that is deeply problematic, but another part that is not. And that’s why it’s so hard to identify the problem, and sometimes, that person doesn’t seem to see the problem,” Jenkins said in the interview Nov. 5.

Jenkins came under fire for his remarks, with second-year law student Deion Kathawa writing in a Nov. 9 Letter to the Editor to The Observer that “Fr. Jenkins demonstrated clearly that he either doesn’t recognize that evil stalks our world  — which is extremely awkward given that he is a Catholic priest — or that he is is willfully blind to it.

“There is nothing ‘complex’ about what has happened here at all,” Kathawa continued in his letter. “Priests, who are commanded to tend to their parishioners as a shepherd to his flock — caring for them, accompanying them in their joys and sorrows, witnessing as Christ to them as they journey to their eternal home and protecting them — sexually abused the most vulnerable in their charge, children and men like McCarrick, when they weren’t debasing themselves by abusing others, systematically covered it up.”

Fr. Steve Newton defended Jenkins in a Nov. 12 response to Kathawa’s letter.

“There is more to the Church than the Church Militant,” Newton wrote. “Fr. Jenkins has withheld a decision to revoke former Cardinal McCarrick’s honorary degree until he is found guilty by a canonical court. That is his prerogative. He further cautioned about describing any sinner a monster. He avers that all matters of culpability are complex.”

In his own response to Kathawa’s letter, Jenkins wrote to The Observer on Nov. 19, clarifying the meaning of his comments to Crux.

“My point was that parts of the lives of many of these men are, to all appearances, good and generous, and so it is difficult for others to detect or perhaps even imagine the evil they do,” Jenkins said in his Letter to the Editor. “Indeed, the more positive aspects of the man’s life may enable him to convince himself that his life is worthy and rationalize away the evil of the abuse.”

Jenkins said in the letter that the “most dangerous lies are those we tell ourselves,” as they can convince people they are doing good rather than evil.

“The good a priest does can blind him to the evil of his actions, and make it hard for others to detect or even imagine the darker areas of the man’s life,” he wrote in the letter. “If we fail to acknowledge the complexity of such a life, we will be less able to understand and identify perpetrators and prevent future abuse.”

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