A resolution calling upon University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. to issue an official statement condemning the clerical sexual abuse uncovered in a Pennsylvania grand jury report last summer passed in the Student Assembly (SA) of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College on Tuesday.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Czar Sepe and Michael Lange, both members of the SA Conduct and Student Rights Committee and MCAS ’21, further called upon the University to officially express a desire to continue to support initiatives that would promote the healing and protection of survivors of sexual abuse.
The resolution points out that the president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. released an official statement on Aug. 21, condemning the sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, six days after the grand jury released its report—which revealed that more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over seven decades and were protected by a hierarchy of church leaders in the state and at the Vatican.
The resolution also says that Leahy has set a precedent of issuing official statements regarding controversial issues, including on DACA and President Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban.” Sepe noted his disappointment that Leahy wouldn’t issue an official University stance on an issue that hits closer to the identity of BC as a Jesuit Catholic Institution.
“We want to make sure that the University is extremely aware of these issues that happen within the church and condemn that,” said Ignacio Fletcher, UGBC executive vice president and MCAS ’20. “[Leahy] must call out these crimes that happened within the Catholic Church that affect a lot of students on campus, knowing that there’s a big Catholic population on campus.”
An official statement, as Sepe put it, would affirm to all members of the BC community that the University unequivocally condemns the sexual abuse in Pennsylvania and across the country. A statement on paper provides accountability, according to Sepe.
The resolution passed on the same night that the C21 Center hosted a panel in the “Why I Remain a Catholic” series, which featured professors and students discussing their commitment to their faith in a time of scandal in the Church. Leahy spoke at the beginning of the event, noting how the inability of the infrastructure of the Church’s hierarchy to successfully deal with the scandal while the decades of misconduct was taking place had left Catholics “hurt, angry, and questioning their continued involvement in the Church.” The University’s president acknowledged the importance of public dialogue in the wake of the scandals that have now publicly plagued the Church for over 15 years.
Sepe commended C21, but said its efforts were not enough at this time.
“The C21 Center has been a great resource in addressing what faith is in the Catholic Church at this time of crisis,” Sepe said. “But even as one of the panelists that night said, what is really lacking from our response is attention to the victims.”
Sepe went on to note that despite the fact that Leahy has shown support for programs such as C21, the two statements he’s issued at events—the other comment was made at University Convocation—were lacking.
“When you look at the statements, he did not acknowledge victims’ concerns and well-being as much as UGBC feels he could,” he said. “[Leahy] issuing an official statement gives the school accountability on the institution’s actions, while demonstrating BC’s willingness to lead the response by reaching out to those hurt.”
UGBC’s next step, said Sepe, is to talk to administrators about creating a comprehensive plan to expand the University’s efforts toward supporting survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
“I think there’s a prevailing notion that what we’re doing right now is enough,” Sepe said. “But I think they aren’t doing enough and that there is room for improvement.”
From his conversations with concerned students, Catholic and non-Catholic, Sepe believes that students recognize efforts that the University has made to address the issue of sexual abuse, but many also agree that there is more to be done.
“If Father Leahy wants us to be a leader for change in the Catholic Church, in both the United States, and in higher education, we could start by being a leader that can formulate an effective response to victims,” said Sepe.
Sepe also said that UGBC is looking to funnel resources into creating special programs for survivors and that he hopes that the University and other on-campus groups such as Campus Ministry and the C21 Center assist them in this project.
Correction (12/4/18, 7:39 p.m.): The president of the University of Notre Dame was initally identified, incorrectly, as Rev. Joshua I. Jones, C.S.C., rather than Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.