After List of Jesuits Accused of Abuse, Schools Rush to Reassure
By Rick Rojas
New York Times
January 18, 2019
Hours after the Jesuits this week released the names of dozens of priests who faced accusations of sexual abuse, schools in the Northeast rushed to dispel any notion that they still employed suspected abusers.
Stricter policies are in place, school officials said, and the understanding of sexual misconduct had evolved. Fordham Prep in the Bronx noted that accused priests were no longer living in a nursing home nearby.
Most of the 50 men who were identified on Tuesday by the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuit order is known, are dead. Many of the rest have not worked in Jesuit-run schools for years or had been pulled from public ministry.
Still, one was teaching at the prestigious Masters School just north of New York City, prompting officials there to initiate an investigation and force him to resign. The private prep school has no religious affiliation.
“We write to you with deeply troubling news,” Masters School officials said in a letter to the school community, adding “we are well aware of how unsettling this allegation is.”
The list, published on the order’s website, was the latest in a flood of disclosures by Catholic dioceses and religious orders of clergy who face abuse claims. It named accused priests who had served in its Northeastern province, many of whom had worked in some of New York City’s top-rated Catholic high schools, including Xavier, Regis, Brooklyn Prep and Fordham Prep.
Some victims have welcomed the move toward transparency, seeing it as validation after claims of abuse had been obfuscated or denied. But the disclosures have also been a disconcerting reminder of the failures to address sexual abuse, which has enveloped the Catholic Church in scandal. Many victims have pushed officials to acknowledge their shortcomings and the work done to correct them.
“Changed practices do not erase past history,” the Very Rev. John J. Cecero, the provincial for the Jesuits in the Northeast, said in a letter accompanying the list. “Any case of abuse is shocking and a profound failure. Jesuits who have offended can no longer offend. Safeguards put in place since 2002 help create safe environments for everyone.”
Last year, the Society of Jesus said it would release the names of all of its clergy across the United States who were credibly accused of abuse. Since December, several hundred Jesuits have been identified in abuse allegations dating as far back as the 1950s.
At least 35 priests on the most recent list have died, and others have been permanently removed from ministry or restricted from serving in public roles.
The disclosure offered virtually no details about the claims, just names, career histories and date ranges for the suspected abuse. Even so, the list indicated that one priest who admitted to abusing minors in 1961 served in Jesuit-run schools for 36 more years. It also showed that there were priests accused of abuse whose careers spanned decades, though in most cases the allegations did not emerge until years later.
One of the priests, Robert Cornigans, was accused of abusing a minor in 1976, an allegation that did not emerge until 2003. He left the Jesuits in 1981, according to the order’s records. In 2004, he joined the faculty of the Masters School. He taught English in its Upper School and lived on campus.
In the letter, officials said that Mr. Cornigans resigned after the list was released, and that he would be leaving his campus residence in “the next few days.”
“We want to be very clear that the safety and security of our students, and our entire community, is our highest priority,” the letter said, noting that the school would hire an outside firm to conduct an investigation.
The school declined to comment further. Efforts to immediately reach Mr. Cornigans on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Officials at Regis and Fordham Prep in New York, as well as at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, were among those who sent emails to their school communities or issued statements acknowledging the disclosures.
“In recent years,” the Rev. Kenneth J. Boller, the president of St. Peter’s Prep, wrote, “the Jesuits and Prep have developed and implemented strict safe environment policies and protocols in an attempt to prevent abuse from happening and to encourage and enable the immediate and proper reporting of any suspect behavior on the part of any member of our community.”
The Rev. Christopher J. Devron, the president of Fordham Prep in the Bronx, made similar assurances, noting the school has implemented polices that aim to “create a safe environment in which every student is protected, cared for and valued.”
He also said school officials had addressed a source of concern: the housing of priests who had been accused of abuse and removed from ministry but were still living just a short walk from the campus.
Advocacy groups had complained when two priests accused of abuse were living at Murray-Weigel Hall, a residence housing retired Jesuits. Both men, Eugene O’Brien and Roy Drake, were named on the list. Public records showed that others on the list had also stayed at the facility.
“I have been assured by the Province that there are no Jesuits about whom they deem to have credible accusations who are assigned presently at Murray-Weigel,” Father Devron said. “The Province has agreed to not assign these men as residents to that community in the future.”