Report recommends action for Gonzaga to move past Catholic Church’s past sexual abuse crisis
The formalization of the protocol to ensure that sexually abusive Jesuits are banned from mission at the University of Gonzaga is one of two dozen formal actions that a commission recommended to the university to overcome the previous crisis of abuse of the Catholic Church.
The recommendations, outlined in a report released on Wednesday, were directed to Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, who formed the 12-member commission in April 2019. as the university was criticized for allowing sexually abusive priests to live on campus.
“I am confident that this report – and the recommendations it contains,” McCulloh wrote in a letter to begin the report, “will guide our actions and the way forward as we demonstrate our solidarity with victim-survivors, deepen our understanding, and working together as a community to mend broken trust and advance the apostolic and educational mission of Gonzaga University.
The commission was formed less than a year after the publication of the results of an 18-month grand jury investigation, more commonly known as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. This investigation identified hundreds of abusive priests as well as systemic efforts by church leaders to protect them.
More specific to Gonzaga, a story from December 2018 published by the investigative podcast “Reveal” covered how the Society of Jesus sent priests linked to credible allegations of sexual abuse to live at Cardinal Bea House, a Jesuit-owned building on the Gonzaga campus. Among them was James Poole, who admitted under oath to sexually assaulting Indigenous women and girls in Alaska.
The 46-page report prepared by the University Commission on Gonzaga’s Response to the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis details the background behind the group’s assessment before concluding with recommendations to McCulloh.
The group was co-chaired by Megan McCabe, assistant professor of religious studies, and Michelle Wheatley, vice president for mission and ministry. At least one Jesuit priest served in the group.
McCulloh, who was not on the commission, said Wednesday he accepted the recommendations “without reservation.”
From there, McCabe and Wheatley will co-chair a steering committee to make recommendations a reality as part of a multi-year effort. Gonzaga’s general counsel, Maureen McGuire, joins them on the steering committee; the Rev. Tom Lamanna, superior of the Jesuit community of Della Strada; and Annmarie Caño, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
For about a month, the steering committee will seek nominations and self-nominations to form working groups with faculty, staff, students and other community representatives. Nominations can be made on the commission’s website, gonzaga.edu/commission.
“I think we imagined them to be of equal importance in a lot of ways,” McCabe said. “Certainly some of the recommendations will be quicker to accomplish or easier to accomplish, and this stuff maybe happens first.”
Wheatley added: “We see the publication of these recommendations as a checkpoint in a much longer process. This is the start of a new phase of work. It will expand, as we imagine at this point, well into the future. There may be even more recommendations and more working groups than what is reflected here as we continue the process.
The commission’s recommendations to McCulloh are defined across five focus areas: academics, memorials and liturgies, mission identity, policies and procedures, and tribal relations, as the commission recognized that “The history of Catholic sexual abuse has caused disproportionate harm to indigenous communities.”
The recommendation for a protocol to ensure that abusive Jesuits are banned from serving at the university has been included as part of the policy and procedure.
Building on the commitments of McCulloh and Jesuits West, according to the university, the recommendation calls on representatives of Gonzaga and the Society of Jesus to collaborate on protocols, which should “clearly meet” the conditions necessary to authorize a Jesuit with unbelievable allegations of abuse. to be considered for assignment.
“Some of the issues relate to transparency, to the accused’s privacy rights that everyone in our society has, to the kinds of burdens of proof considered necessary,” said Wheatley.
The issues at stake are not “just for the Jesuits,” McCabe said, noting the commission’s recommendation to build on the work of the university’s Title IX steering committee and foster a renewed investment in prevention. campus sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
“I think there’s a huge sensitivity around that today,” McCulloh said. “The importance of formality is that it doesn’t fade into the past… For me, the formalization is that I never want something like this to happen again.”
Since the news came out in late 2018, McCulloh has said he has an agreement with Lamanna that the two should have a discussion when considerations are made to affect a Jesuit linked to the allegations. The discussion would play into the process of determining whether or not to accept that person on campus, he said.
“It didn’t happen because no one has had such allegations since that time,” McCulloh said.
The report also calls on Gonzaga administrators and Jesuit leaders to consider reimagining Bea House “as a space for future activities and work in the service of the Jesuit mission in the university and region.”
Bea House has different symbolic meanings for different people, said McCabe, who cited the perspective of a Native Alaskan student from a village where Poole abused. The commission made no recommendations for its potential use, said McCabe and Wheatley.
“Ultimately, because this is a Jesuit-owned space, any re-imagining should be a collaborative partnership between the university and the province,” said Wheatley.
Some recommendations have already been approved. This includes a call for Gonzaga to devote at least $ 10,000 a year to funding faculty research into ways to address the issues of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
This scholarship fund, named “Social Justice and the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis,” could be used for reading groups, independent research, or to bring academics to campus for public lectures. Wheatley and McCabe said the fund was approved at the start of the current academic year.
Other notable recommendations are as follows, according to the report:
• Establish a permanent memorial to honor all those who have been victims of Catholic sexual abuse, “especially those who have been mistreated by Jesuits who were then lodged in the house of Cardinal Bea living on security plans”.
• Develop ways to draw more attention to the underlying characteristics of the crisis of Catholic abuse in university curricula.
• Develop an installation or exhibit to commemorate Gonzaga’s history and his ongoing relationship with regional Indigenous communities.
Asked about funding for the recommendations, Wheatley said the strategies involved will likely depend on the project, as some of them are already embedded in the work of the university and could be supported by reallocating current university resources.
In other cases, Gonzaga may need to engage in partnerships with benefactors or other organizations, she said.
“I can think of several people who have already indicated that they think this is important work,” McCulloh said.
From the start, Wheatley said committee members made it clear that they wanted to be “part of something real, meaningful and actionable.”
“It is reshaping our community. It reshapes the kinds of things we commit to, ”McCabe said of the recommendations. “And then it becomes, in a lot of ways, very disturbing for these kinds of abuse patterns. Unfortunately, it is slow and difficult work.
“Gonzaga must become more intentional”
In reaching these recommendations, the commission was careful not to ask or compel anyone, including the commission members themselves, to disclose their experiences of abuse.
“Throughout this trip, Commission members were touched, impressed and inspired by the number of community members who shared their stories and how their perspectives reinforced this process,” the report says.
The commission was not charged with investigating any irregularities, “although the task of establishing the context necessarily includes collecting information in some form,” the report notes.
Therefore, the report does not delve into a section titled “Who knew what when?” “The report acknowledges how some were more aware than others of sending credibly accused men to Bea House, concluding with” a key takeaway: Gonzaga needs to become more intentional in owning and sharing in the history of the University as well as in navigating its relationship with the Society of Jesus. “
“We hope that the recommendations we are proposing are ways to involve people in this work of demolishing unjust structures and building righteous structures in which everyone can thrive,” said Wheatley.
McCulloh added: “My feeling is that we feel like what needs to be known is known. It’s a matter of the record. So really, our efforts in recognizing that there are also limits to what we can know, especially about the past and past events, is that we have to focus on today and move forward, because there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved.