University Catholic Chaplain Father Gabriel Zeis Resigns in Light of Sexual Abuse Allegation
By Marie-Rose Sheinerman
September 11, 2019
Father Gabriel Zeis, the director of and chaplain at the University’s Catholic campus ministry, resigned on Wednesday following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, which dates back to 1975. According to an email sent to student members of the Aquinas Institute, the on-campus Catholic ministry, Zeis denied the allegation but immediately resigned from both his position at the Institute and his position as Diocesan Vicar for Catholic Education.
The email, sent by the Diocese of Trenton, said that the Provincial Superior of the Third Order Regular Franciscans (TOR) was notified on the evening of Monday, Sept. 9 of the allegation against the chaplain. The email stated that the Order is “pursuing an investigation into the allegation to determine its credibility” and asked that anyone with information or questions related to the notification contact the Franciscans through their website.
With the approval of Bishop David O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton, Father Zeis served at the University. In an email statement to The Daily Princetonian, University spokesperson Ben Chang explained, “Father Zeis was not a University employee, and the University had no role in his resignation. The Diocese notified us that this action had been taken.”
Chang went on to encourage any students in need of support “to speak with a member of their residential college staff, the Graduate School, or one of our confidential resources, including SHARE, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the chaplains in the Office of Religious Life.”
Reverend Alison L. Boden, the Dean of Religious Life on campus, echoed Chang’s sentiment and urged any members of the University community who are “affected by these events – in any way – to reach out to the ORL.”
The Diocese of Trenton clarified in their email that they have not received any complaints against Father Zeis relating to his service and ministry at the University. They went on to encourage “anyone who was sexually abused as a minor or vulnerable adult by any representative of the Church to report that abuse to local law enforcement authorities and the Diocese of Trenton by calling our hotline at 1-888-296-2965 or emailing to email@example.com.”
Matthew Igoe ’20, student president of the Aquinas ministry team, wrote in an email statement to the ‘Prince’ that “the accusation did come as a shock, as we have only known Father Gabe to be a kind and generous chaplain during his time at Princeton.”
“We await the conclusion of the investigation conducted by Father’s religious community, the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, as we continue to pray and work for the renewal of the Catholic Church in this country and throughout the world,” he continued. “Our activities as a ministry will continue while we wait for the arrival of a new chaplain.”
Father Zeis did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.
In an email statement to the ‘Prince,’ Rev. Boden stated that the Diocese of Trenton hopes to appoint an acting Catholic chaplain as early as this weekend and that she looks forward to welcoming that person to campus.
“The circumstances of Fr. Zeis’ resignation are heartbreaking,” she said. “Our prayers go out to the person who has made the allegation of sexual misconduct, to Fr. Zeis, to those who will investigate the matter, and to the campus Catholic community, which is understandably very upset. I have shared with the student leadership of the Aquinas Institute that all of us in Religious Life are here for them, and that they have our profoundest support.”
Father Joseph Thomas ’99, the assistant chaplain at the Aquinas Institute, wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince,’ encouraged students to “keep in mind that we are dealing with an allegation which has not yet been proved.”
“While every accusation needs to be taken seriously, I am confident that a thorough investigation will bear out Father Gabe's claim of innocence,” wrote Father Thomas. “I also trust that Princeton students are critically-minded enough to avoid making hasty judgments. I don't think this incident will prevent the students, faculty, and staff who participate in the Aquinas Institute from having another fruitful year, and making a valuable contribution to the life of University.”
The allegation follows Catholic prelature Opus Dei’s settlement in a sexual misconduct case regarding Father C. John McCloskey, a former Associate Chaplain for The Aquinas Institute. McCloskey’s act of assault was originally reported in 2002, and Opus Dei reached a settlement with the victim in 2005. No complaints were made against Father McCloskey during his time at the University.