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Three former Notre Dame-affiliated priests named as having sexually abused minors

| Thursday, June 13, 2019

Three former members of the Congregation of Holy Cross who spent time at Notre Dame during their careers were credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor during their ministry, a press release Wednesday from the Congregation of Holy Cross said.

In the release, the Congregation of Holy Cross listed 15 of its former members as credibly-accused sexual abusers. Of the 15, 10 are deceased and two were removed from ministry, the release said.

The three who worked at Notre Dame include Fr. John Fitzgerald, who was removed from ministry in 1992 and left the Congregation in 1997, Fr. Archibald McDowell, who died in 1994, and Fr. David Verhalen, who died in 2012. Fitzgerald, McDowell and Verhalen join four other Notre Dame-affiliated priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse in September by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

McDowell had “multiple” accusations against him while Fitzgerald and Verhalen each had one, according to the release.

The announcement of the abusive priests follows the University’s creation of a task force in 2018 to address the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis and subsequently released plans to combat the crisis through dialogue, scholarship, advanced leadership training and better accountability for sexual abusers.

Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications, said in an email he became aware of the list shortly before it was posted by the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“One of three individuals, who had been at some point in their careers assigned to Notre Dame, was credibly accused 70 years ago of child sexual abuse while employed by the University,” he said. “Archibald McDowell, who taught religion, was accused in 1949 of unwanted touching by a teenage male, and was separated from the University soon thereafter.

“… As far as we know, [no other priest] was the subject of a child sexual abuse complaint while employed by the University.”

The accusation against Fitzgerald was received the same year he was removed from ministry in 1992. The allegation against Verhalen was received in 2007, six years after he was “permanently removed” from ministry.

The press release was accompanied by a letter from Fr. William Lies, provincial superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross. In the letter, Lies apologizes for the suffering caused by the abusers.

“On behalf of the members of the U.S. Province, I apologize,” Lies said. “I am profoundly sorry for the pain and suffering inflicted on anyone who has been abused or impacted in any way by the actions of any of our members. All victim-survivors and their families are deserving of transparency and accountability. I hope that these disclosures, while painful to review, will help bring about some healing and peace.”

An accusation is deemed credible following an independent review of all information and consultation with a review board, the provincial council and the provincial administration, the release said. It can also be named credible if the accused member admits to the allegation or is “convicted by civil authorities in a court of law.”

Although the accusations have been deemed credible by the Congregation, the release said a credible accusation still may not necessarily be true.

“It is important to note that inclusion on this list does not necessarily mean that these allegations are true or correct or that the accused religious has been found guilty of a crime or liable for any civil claim,” the statement said. “Many of these allegations arise from events that occurred decades after the alleged abuse would have taken place, making it difficult to conduct a complete investigation. In addition, some of these allegations were made after an accused religious died and, therefore, he did not have the opportunity to respond for himself.”

The statement also said the list will be updated as more information emerges.

In his letter, Lies said the Congregation will assist victims who come forward in the future.

“Nonetheless, we know there may be other victims who have not come forward,” he said. “We are committed to accompanying all who have been abused by these or other men, and we encourage any victims to please come forward. Any victimization of a minor should be reported to law enforcement immediately.”

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