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‘I apologized to my rapist’: ND alumna accuses former classmate, chair of BC theology department of sexual assault

| Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Editor’s note: This story includes discussions of sexual abuse and violence. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre DameSaint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

The chair of theology at Boston College has been accused of sexually assaulting a former classmate in 1987 while the two were theology doctoral students at Notre Dame.

Boston College is currently investigating allegations against Richard Gaillardetz ‘91, after theologian Laura Grimes ‘04 alleged he assaulted her on two separate occasions in a series of YouTube videos she released Jan. 23 and last week.

Grimes said Gaillardetz assaulted her for the first time on Halloween night 1987 in his apartment, and then again in early December in her apartment, in the former O’Hara-Grace residences.

“It was absolutely nonconsensual because consent was never asked,” Grimes said in an interview with The Observer.

Serena Zacharias | The Observer
Theologian Laura Grimes has accused chair of theology at Boston College, Richard Gaillardetz, of sexually assaulting her while the two were doctoral students at Notre Dame in 1987.

Gaillardetz has denied the allegations and voluntarily stepped away from his position, Boston College’s independent student-run paper, The Heights, first reported on March 1.

In an email to The Observer, Gaillardetz said Boston College promptly hired an independent law firm to investigate the allegations after he learned of Grimes’ accusations Jan. 23.

“I am eager to set the record straight with respect to Dr. Grimes’ reckless allegations but I have been advised not to respond to the specifics of the allegations until the investigation is concluded,” he said.

At the time of the alleged assaults, Grimes said, Gaillardetz was in a long-distance relationship with his current wife, and Grimes considered Gaillardetz nothing more than a friend.

The two had become friends initially through their shared interest in theology and spirituality, but Grimes said she cut off their friendship after the second alleged assault.

“He had broken the covenant; the covenant was that we were absolutely friends,” Grimes told The Observer.

On the night of the first incident, Grimes said she was planning on going to a Halloween dance with her friends, but Gaillardetz invited her over to his apartment for a dinner with a few colleagues before the dance. After the other dinner attendees left, the next thing Grimes remembers is being in Gaillardetz’s bedroom. She alleged he performed oral sex on her then without her consent.

After the first alleged assault, Grimes said she felt so much shame she decided to go to confession.

For her penance, the priest advised her to ask Gaillardetz for forgiveness.

“I think we were sitting in the Huddle or something talking over lunch, and I was gagged out apologizing to him, and now I think, I apologized to my rapist,” Grimes said. “And he looked at me like I was crazy because clearly he wasn’t sorry. He didn’t go to confession.”

After the first incident, Grimes said she emphasized to Gaillardetz she did not want repeated sexual contact. Yet one night in early December, Grimes alleged Gaillardetz bullied her into going upstairs to her bedroom, despite repeated refusals. Once they were upstairs, Gaillardetz performed oral sex on her again and demanded that she perform oral sex on him too.

“It made me gag, but I went along with it,” Grimes said.

Vice president for public affairs and communications Paul Browne said the University administration will ask Boston College to share the findings of the independent investigation into Grimes’ allegations that may relate to Notre Dame.

After spending years reflecting on the alleged assaults, Grimes said, she decided to come forward with allegations after she heard Gaillardetz had been speaking about the clerical sexual abuse crisis as a theologian.

“He is pretending to be part of the solution when he’s part of the problem,” Grimes said.

In her videos, Grimes accused Gaillardetz of enabling and perpetrating ecclesial rape culture, which she said is a rampant problem within the Catholic Church. She said the power imbalances embedded in Catholic settings gives rise to abuse.

“A Catholic higher education like Notre Dame combines the rape culture of all higher education schools with the rape culture of the Catholic Church,” Grimes said.

When she was a doctoral student at Notre Dame, Grimes believed the theology department to be “very male-dominated,” and she said this contributed to a dangerous culture.

Browne said in an email the University rejects Grimes’ characterization of the Notre Dame theology department in 1987 and the assertion that Catholic colleges and universities are havens for sexual abuse.

“Notre Dame values each individual, and has no tolerance for sexual harassment or assault,” Browne wrote.

In 1991, while Grimes was a student at Notre Dame, Fr. James Burtchaell, a professor of theology and provost, resigned from the faculty amid charges of sexual misconduct with male undergraduates.

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was a full-time theology faculty member at Notre Dame from 1984 until his death in 1997. In 1992, eight victims came forward with a statement detailing Yoder’s history with sexual misconduct. However, allegations against Yoder had been circulating for years prior to the public complaints, the first of which surfaced in the 1970s.

In the second video of the series, Grimes also alleged Gaillardetz had later admitted to her in an email in 1998 that he had sexually abused a student during his first teaching position in Texas.

“In this case, it’s both sexual abuse and spiritual abuse because you are a religious leader,” Grimes said in the video, addressing Gaillardetz directly.

Grimes hopes Gaillardetz recognizes the hurt he has caused her.

“The only chance he might repent is if he’s brought to public justice,” Grimes said. “But even if he won’t, we really need to educate the society, the Church in particular about what this is and get justice and safety, first for his present students, and get justice if there have been any [other victims] in the past.”

Although Grimes strongly believes the culture of the Church should be reformed, she said she still leans on her faith to work through her trauma. She even filmed her allegation videos in her own home chapel.

“My faith is everything,” Grimes said.

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a member of the class of 2021 majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and is a former ND News Editor for The Observer.

Contact Serena