In the wake of abuse: 46 pages doesn’t answer our questions

The Gonzaga Bulletin [Spokane WA]

September 8, 2021

By Dawson Neely

To begin on the same page: Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh recently released the findings of an 18-month committee on Gonzaga’s response to the Catholic sexual abuse crisis, including the Cardinal Bea House on campus.

The subsequent 46-page report asks more questions than it answers. While being digestible and open to the public, it fails to answer some pressing concerns that naturally arise in the wake of a scandal such as this. Chief among these questions is, how much was known, and could it have been prevented?

For those who were not previously aware of the full history behind priestly abusers and their relocation, this report gives a light introduction. However, the context that the committee has had access to seems to have been glossed over when fitted for public consumption.

Historical analysis of events and tragedies are narrowed to only one named account, that of the disgraced Fr. James Poole who credibly abused Alaska Native girls before being relocated to the Cardinal Bea house. This alone should prompt curiosity, as the report indicates 28 credible accused Jesuits. What are their stories?

This gaping hole of information only widens as one reads further. Seven of the 28 abusers were actively engaging in this atrocious behavior while still living at the rectory.

“At the point at which the provisional made that statement at the end of 2018 (listing the names of all accused by diocese), to my knowledge, there were no Jesuit priests on campus, against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made,” McCulloh told The Bulletin.

If there weren’t any active abusers on campus at that time, then when were they? The report fails to identify the names and dates of these abusers. Information of this kind being obfuscated leaves the public looking through a keyhole, only adding to the cycle of distrust that surrounds the Church’s handling of this tragedy.

Not only the convoluted context of this scandal left much to be desired, but also the recommendations and reflections that this committee leaves behind.

A desire for an apology began the committee’s reflection after it deliberated on the facts, the report claims. Of course, it does. No one can argue that these events were anything shy of a heinous betrayal by those that we hold to the highest moral standard.

Why, then, do the recommendations fall short of demanding an apology?

The desires and ideas that the committee places forth are an amazing step. They prove our university’s commitment to a higher standard of care for students and the community at large, but they are lacking a crucial first step.

In order for the healing process to begin, accountability and an apology are required. Moving past recognition of the parts both the local Jesuit province and the university played in this horrific tale, and jumping to liturgies and monuments, denies the GU population a chance to breathe and take in the whole picture.

Crimes occurred, in other places or here at home, and the perpetrators were given “protection plans.” Protecting whom? It surely wasn’t the university, its students or its future.

Whether or not we like the commission report that the committee produced, this issue goes beyond how GU responds. It has rocked the core of what our school means when it calls itself “Jesuit.”

The relationship between the Society of Jesus and our campus has reached a crossroads. Now is the time to redefine how the two administrations will interact in a way that benefits all of us, who put our trust in this place we call home for nine months of the year.

Operating as a sponsored work of the Jesuits has given us much for which to be thankful. From Cura Personalis to our rich core, GU is itself because of the Ignatian values it holds so dearly. But what target was painted on our backs by this affiliation when the haphazard reassignments found the Bea house?

A minefield. That’s what this situation is. Our university is our patron, sponsor and defender, and therefore deserves our hope and faith.

If we lose all trust in the midst of our indignation and fear, then we lose the only lifeline we have back to safety. So, question, demand or fight for what you believe, but we will get through this, with grace and time.

Dawson Neely is the opinion editor. Follow him on Twitter: @DawsonNeely.