Cardinals Sin: Georgetown Appeases, Frustrates Students Seeking Revocation Of Honorary Degrees

The Georgetown Voice

February 27, 2019

By Margaret Gach

Following months of student activism and internal discussions among top administrators, Georgetown University announced it was revoking the honorary degree it conferred on Theodore McCarrick, former cardinal and archbishop of D.C. The Feb. 19 decision comes after McCarrick’s removal from the priesthood three days prior because of sexual abuse allegations against him that became public last summer. This is the first time Georgetown has revoked an honorary degree.

Now, students and Georgetown’s Catholic community are reflecting on the revocation and looking ahead at what they believe the university and the Catholic Church still need to do to address the decades-long clerical sexual abuse crisis.

Julie Bevilacqua (COL ’19) is one of a group of students who met with university officials throughout the fall semester to advocate for the revocations of the honorary degrees given to McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl—a former archbishop of D.C. accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse. For Bevilacqua and others in the group, the Feb. 19 announcement was a welcome one, but she said their work is far from over.

“I’m feeling simultaneously happy that this degree is finally being revoked and also frustrated that this took so long,” Bevilacqua said. “It’s really important that we remember this is a beginning step and not a final one.”

When the Archdiocese of New York released a statement on June 20, 2018 outlining an accusation that McCarrick had abused a teenage altar boy, Pope Francis ordered McCarrick out of public service and into a life of “prayer and penance” to await a trial in the Vatican. The news set off a series of allegations in other dioceses: Seminarians training to be priests claimed McCarrick had forced them to share a bed with him while they were on retreat, and a Virginia man said that McCarrick, a “family friend,” had sexually abused him over two decades.

The accusations hit the D.C. Catholic community especially hard. McCarrick had been a well-liked archbishop during his time in Washington from 2001 to 2006. Throughout his tenure in D.C., it wasn’t unusual to see him on Georgetown’s campus. McCarrick attended university President John DeGioia’s 2001 inauguration, celebrated Mass in Dahlgren Chapel, was a guest lecturer in classes, and participated in university panels up through 2014. Georgetown conferred an honorary degree on McCarrick in 2004 for his “humanitarian efforts” and “compassionate service to others.”

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