Jenkins announces University plans to address Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis
Observer Staff Report | Tuesday, March 5, 2019
University President Fr. John Jenkins announced Notre Dame’s plans to address the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal in a statement to the campus community Monday.
“I have heard from many in the campus community how the stories of the past months disheartened and challenged their faith,” Jenkins said in the statement. “True faith calls us not to be discouraged by human sin, but to focus more completely on the hope offered by Christ. … If we do this, we can deepen our prayer, strengthen our commitment to live good and holy lives and foster a hope that will shine more clearly. Our response, then, demands prayer and reflection, but we must also act.”
The statement, which follows both Jenkins’ original response to the crisis in October and the Vatican sex abuse summit, outlines a number of steps the University plans to take to address and prevent clericalism and sexual abuse both in the Notre Dame community and the Catholic Church as a whole.
“Real progress will be achieved by initiating with other processes that include careful thought, study, continual improvement of laws, policies and practices and sustained support for survivors. Most of all, it requires a change in hearts that leads us to a common and dedicated effort to prevent sexual assault, harassment and abuse in any form by anyone,” Jenkins said in the statement. “ … To the extent we can do this, the dark night of the current crisis will lead us to a hopeful dawn.”
The University’s next steps were planned with the help of two task forces formed by Jenkins last semester, a Campus Engagement Task Force and a Research and Scholarship Task Force, which worked to gather feedback from the community and assess research initiatives on the scandal, respectively.
Immediate Steps: 2019-2020
Initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion
In accordance with both task forces’ recommendation and Pope Francis’ call for a synodal Church, the University will host further opportunities for campus-wide discussion about the crisis, Jenkins said in the statement. The sex abuse scandal will be the main topic of discussion for the 2019-20 Notre Dame Forum, he said. Other campus events on the subject have also been planned.
“My office will host two campus-wide events — one in fall 2019 that will offer perspectives on where the Church is now, identifying steps that have been taken and problems that must be addressed,” Jenkins said in the statement.
The second event will focus on next steps for the Church — not only sexual abuse prevention, but broader issues the crisis has brought to light, including “structures of accountability in the Church, clericalism, the role of women, creating and sustaining ethical cultures and the continued accompaniment of survivors,” he added.
Offer presidential research grants
The University will set aside up to $1 million over the next three years to fund research on the crisis. Instructions on how to apply for the grants will be sent out to faculty, and a committee will be formed to develop criteria for awarding them, Jenkins said in the statement.
Ongoing Efforts: 2019 and beyond
Encourage and share relevant research and scholarship
Notre Dame will support ongoing programs and research initiatives serving the Catholic Church. Among these include the The McGrath Institute for Church Life’s study on preventing sexual abuse in seminaries, its conference on “co-responsibility of laity and clergy in the Church,” taking place in early 2020, and the deNicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s research on how canon law can better protect against sexual abuse, Jenkins said in the statement.
Train graduates for effective leadership in the Church during and beyond the crisis
Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity, Alliance for Catholic Education and Echo lay leadership programs will continue to train their students in sexual abuse prevention and awareness, Jenkins said in the statement. The theology department has also held internal discussions on how to better educate its students on sexual abuse in the Church as well as help better form students entering ministry, he added.
Redouble efforts to create a culture of accountability and transparency around sexual assault and misconduct on our own campus, whether perpetrated by laypersons or clergy
Jenkins said the University is committed to continue efforts to improve sexual assault prevention, reporting and responding at Notre Dame across campus.
“My office will monitor progress on these efforts and other relevant initiatives that may emerge and report back on progress toward the end of the 2019-20 academic year,” he said in the statement.