BC Theology Department Chair Accused of Sexual Assault

The Heights - Boston College [Chestnut Hill MA]

March 1, 2021

By Megan Kelly, Julia Kiersznowski, and Victor Stefanescu

Boston College is investigating allegations that Richard Gaillardetz, chair of the theology department, sexually assaulted a former classmate at the University of Notre Dame.

In two YouTube videos released on Wednesday and Jan. 23, theologian Laura Grimes alleges that Gaillardetz sexually assaulted her twice—on Halloween and in early December of 1987—while the two were students in a theology doctoral program at Notre Dame. 

“I will come to you in this series of videos reflecting on ecclesial rape culture in which you so strongly enable and perpetrate,” Grimes said addressing Gaillardetz in the first video.

Gaillardetz, who denies the allegations, has voluntarily stepped away from his teaching and administrative duties at BC while the investigation continues. 

In an email to The Heights, Gaillardetz said that he first learned of Grimes’ accusations on Jan. 23. BC has hired an independent law firm to investigate the credibility of the allegations—an investigation that is still ongoing—he wrote.

“I am eager to set the record straight with respect to Dr. Grimes wreckless allegations but I have been advised not to respond to the allegations until the investigation is concluded,” Gaillardetz wrote.  

In an interview with The Heights, Grimes said that she and Gaillardetz became friends while they were in the Notre Dame graduate program together, but their relationship did not progress further than friendship.

“We did a lot of spiritual sharing and had a very growing and new friend relationship, but no dating at all or romance,” Grimes said.

Grimes said one of the reasons she is coming forward with the allegations now is because she heard Gaillardetz, a professor of Catholic systematic theology, speak about the sexual abuse scandal in the clergy.

“I think I Googled him or something looking for his website, and what came up was that in the last couple years, he is speaking on literally the clergy sexual abuse crisis,” Grimes said. “And it was like, ‘Oh my god, utter blasphemy,’ and then reading what he said or watching what he said, it was so totally flawed and clueless … he’s everything he’s pointing the finger at.”

Gaillardetz spoke at BC in 2018 about reconciling with faith amid the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.

“And so at the end of the day, we consent to be troubled by the failings of the church, we consent to be troubled by its institutional dysfunctions, and we are determined to do everything we can to address those things,” Gaillardetz said at the event.

Grimes said that Gaillardetz is an example of one of the problems she sees in the Catholic Church. 

“So just the whole moral bankruptcy, the spiritual bankruptcy of the entire Catholic theologians and Catholic universities that are, instead of cleaning up their own house—their very serious problems—they’re instead pretending they’re the heroes and they’re gonna save us from the bad bishops and the bad priests,” Grimes said.

Grimes also said that she is coming forward now because she has come to understand that her alleged encounters were abusive.

“Over the past several years, I’ve started to see more and more what he did to me was really horrible and was not consensual and realized, ‘Oh, I need to speak out about this,’” she said.

Grimes described her frustration with what she perceives is a toxic culture of sexual assault on Catholic college campuses.

“So getting this immense amount of money, immense amount of adulation … that goes beyond him, to Boston College, to Santa Clara, to Notre Dame, to every Catholic college and University,” Grimes said. “They’re havens of horrific rape culture and sexual abuse and assault and it’s not acknowledged as such.”

Kenneth Himes, a professor in the theology department, will serve as acting chair of the department in Gaillardetz’s absence.

“I accepted the role of ‘acting Chair’ of the Theology Department because of my loyalty to BC and my respect and appreciation for my colleagues in the department,” Himes wrote in an email to The Heights. “The appointment is to last until the matter regarding the allegations against Prof. Gaillardetz is resolved.”

BC confirmed that the University is investigating the validity of the allegations in a statement to The Heights.

“Boston College takes any allegation of sexual misconduct with the utmost seriousness and has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation to determine the credibility of allegations raised in the social media posts,” the statement reads. 

BC also said that the University has not received any complaints of sexual misconduct from Grimes.

“The University has not received any complaints of sexual misconduct against Professor Gaillardetz during his 10 years at Boston College, nor has the individual making the allegation from 1987 presented any complaint to Boston College,” the statement reads. “Professor Gaillardetz has voluntarily agreed to step away from his teaching and administrative duties while the investigation is ongoing.”

Grimes said that she hopes to receive some recognition from Gaillardetz about the assault and see BC reprimand him.

“But, yeah, that I hope to force him to some kind of acknowledgement, some kind of consequences,” Grimes said. “And to force BC, you know, to act to protect their students and for it to become very public so hopefully other victims … choose to come forward.”