The Gonzaga Bulletin [Spokane WA]
September 1, 2021
By Asher Ali, Devan Iyomasa
The University Commission on Gonzaga’s response to Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis released its 18-month report on Wednesday with recommendations for GU President Thayne McCulloh on how the university can progress as a Jesuit institution given its specific historical and geographic context.
The report stops short of issuing a formal apology or putting particular parties at fault for the presence of priests with a history of sexual abuse on the university’s premises, but offers future strategies to the president for how to ameliorate the situation going forward.
“The commission actually made recommendations that operationalize some of this,” McCulloh said. “For example, by recommending that we memorialize these events publicly, on the campus, then we acknowledge that harm was done and that people have suffered.”
The commission advises that a working group be assembled to plan the construction of a permanent “labyrinth” near the Jundt Art Museum. That memorial, as well as recommended annual Liturgies to acknowledge the problem of Catholic sexual abuse, are particularly meant to honor individuals abused by Jesuits who lived at the Cardinal Bea House.
“We’re explicit about calling that forward so that people don’t forget, or believe that the university’s work is trying to ignore or leave that in the past because we know that it’s not in the past for many people in many communities,” McCulloh said.
In December 2018, U.S. Jesuits West Province, the geographic province within the Society of Jesus that GU is situated in, released the names of every priest credibly accused of sexual abuse by diocese. The list included 28 priests who lived at the Jesuit-owned Bea House on GU’s campus after periods of sexual abuse, including seven priests who were a part of the community during the same period that they were were accused of sexual abuse.
Priests within the Jesuits’ Province who have substantiated accusations of sexual abuse can no longer preach, but are still housed in Jesuit convocations.
At the Bea House, safety plans were created for residents with credible claims of sexual abuse to keep them away from other demographics at risk.
“At the point at which the provisional made that statement at the end of 2018, to my knowledge, there were no Jesuit priests on campus, against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made,” McCulloh said.
Shortly after the release of the names of priests in Jesuits West Province, Fr. Tom Lamana, S.J., the local rector, made a new decree that no Jesuit with a safety plan could take up residency at the Bea House.
According to McCulloh, Fr. Lamana is now obligated to inform him if at any time the Jesuits are considering sending a Jesuit to GU who has any prior history or allegations.
“The university has no tolerance for employing people who have credible allegations of misconduct,” McCulloh said.
Following the release, McCulloh announced the formation of the commission in April 2019.
Over the course of the next 13 months, the commission met 13 times to identify, discuss and put forward recommendations to McCulloh regarding the university’s role in the broader Catholic sexual abuse crisis.
The report was originally submitted to administration and the Jesuit Board of Members in August 2020, but it was not publicly released until a year later due to the disruption from a new school year starting in the middle of a pandemic, according to McCulloh.
The commission, led by co-chairs Megan McCabe from the Religious Studies Department and Michelle Wheatley from Mission and Ministry, was made up of 10 other faculty and staff members and two administrative support members.
The co-chairs assembled the commission after receiving nominations from members of the community, as McCabe and Wheatley made an effort to construct a group with a multiplicity of perspectives.
“We were very attentive to the particular roles people might have and the areas of expertise that they could bring,” McCabe said. “Whether that’s a student perspective or our director of tribal relations, we considered what that might bring to these questions.”
Together, they outline 20 recommendations including memorializations, increased support for Native and Indigenous students, dedicated financial and academic pursuits and updated policies and procedures as they relate to the placement of Jesuits accused of sexual misconduct.
The commission recommended an annual fund for faculty research and academic endeavors in relation to the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. The fund was approved by the university as the Social Justice & the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis Fund with a $15,000 allocation for its first year.
On Dec. 14, 2018, Reveal News published an audio report that exposed the Jesuits West Province for transferring Jesuits in the Northwest with a history of sexual abuse to Native villages, enabling them to continue to abuse. Some of these priests were then relocated to other communities, including GU.
In the report, the commission recommends the university sponsor scholarships for Native American students and fund resources on campus like the Center for American Indian Studies.
They also recommend that GU pays specific attention to the relationship between Catholics and Natives, and use that historical context to inform their plans for outreach with local tribal communities going forward.
“Paying attention to the Jesuit context, Inland Northwest, Pacific Northwest and Alaska shaped the way that we paid attention to sexual abuse in the Catholic church with particular attention to the disproportionate harm against Native people,” McCabe said.
McCabe and Wheatley will again serve as co-chairs on the Steering Committee, which will oversee the progression and implementation of the recommendations.
Asher Ali is the editor-in-chief. Follow him on Twitter: @asher_ali3.
Devan Iyomasa is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @devaniyomasa.