During his tenure at Boston College, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., has made a big deal out of living one’s life in accordance with Jesuit values.
Shortly after becoming president in the fall of 1996, Leahy supported BC’s decision not to recognize the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community (LGBC) student group, saying that “he did not want to do anything ‘which conflicts with [BC’s] heritage and mission.’”
Well, on April 26, The Heights reported that Leahy received numerous warnings that Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., allegedly engaged in emotionally abusive, inappropriate conduct with BC students. Dziak continued working with young male students and allegedly raped at least one student while serving on a Jesuit Volunteers International program in Belize.
After Leahy’s failure to protect young, vulnerable students from Dziak’s clear pattern of predatory behavior, it is evident that Leahy’s rhetoric about Jesuit values is just for show.
Leahy received several letters that Dziak was abusing students. That is irrefutable. Dziak continued working with young male students for the next 22 years after leaving BC, including at an all-boys high school in Jamaica. That, too, is irrefutable. At least one of Dziak’s students has accused him of rape following the letters to Leahy, and others have detailed numerous instances of sexual and emotional harassment.
The next day, Leahy issued a response in The Heights attacking the report. Leahy did not express an ounce of sympathy for Dziak’s victims, both at BC and later on. He washed his hands of Dziak’s abuse by reporting allegations of misconduct to the province after first learning of them in the fall of 1997.
There are three problems with that response. First, as president of a University where a staff member was accused of abusing students, he had a responsibility to investigate the allegations, and there is no evidence of any such investigation. Second, Dziak continued working with students at BC for months after Leahy first heard of the allegations. And third, the province’s decision to relocate Dziak to another location where he had access to young male students is remarkably similar to the church’s infamous enabling of abusive priests at the time as described in the bombshell Boston Globe Spotlight report.
Leahy knew about a manipulative and emotionally abusive priest at BC. The priest went on to continue abusing young men. Even now, Leahy cannot summon the capacity to sympathize with Dziak’s victims. That is not a Jesuit response. That is not behavior befitting a man entrusted to protect the students in his care.
“Reflecting its Jesuit, Catholic heritage, Boston College insists that everyone should be treated with dignity, respect, and grace,” Leahy wrote to the BC community following the murder of George Floyd in June. “It is essential that all of us review our lives to ensure that we act in accord with the Gospel mandate to love God and neighbor.”
How dare Leahy lecture us on responding to injustice when he refuses to address the everyday acts of injustice that are perpetrated on his own campus.
Throughout his time at BC, Leahy has repeatedly ignored overt discrimination at BC and actively denigrated students.
In 1997, a female student of color told Leahy at a town hall that she felt unsatisfied at BC. In response, Leahy “voiced his belief that if students were not satisfied at BC, then perhaps this was not the community for them and they should just leave,” according to an account of the incident in The Heights.
In 2014, students staged a die-in protesting BC’s inadequate response to racist police brutality. Again, Leahy said nothing, and the students participating in the protest were subject to disciplinary sanctions.
Shortly after Leahy arrived at BC, a student advocating for recognition of the LGBC club reported that Leahy told him he “did not want BC to become the ‘gay social epicenter of Boston.’” When Leahy finally permitted a Gay/Straight Alliance at BC, he only did so because they agreed not to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
Later, in 2005, BC canceled a dance sponsored by the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) because it was not in line with BC’s Catholic values, and in 2007 Interim Dean of Students Paul Chebator criticized the GLC’s “disrespectful tone” after it spoke out against institutional homophobia at BC.
When the Vatican released a statement denigrating the LGBTQ+ community this year, Leahy said nothing.
Students have also been calling on the University to live up to its values for years and divest from fossil fuels, and their cause was bolstered last summer when the Vatican joined them and called for Catholics to divest. Again, under Leahy’s leadership, BC actively chose the path of injustice and refused.
What’s more, during Leahy’s time at BC, he has given a public platform to a slew of racist and homophobic people, and this month an alleged war criminal presented at a conference on Latin American business leadership. BC can’t even use the “hate speech is free speech” argument hereafter disinviting former left-wing terrorist William Ayers from speaking at BC in 2009. For Leahy, anti-elite hate speech is not suitable at BC, but racism, homophobia, and crimes against humanity are.
Now, following a Heights report that a priest continued working with students after Leahy received allegations of abuse, Leahy has finally said something, if only to clear his own name. And yet, in his response, he unwittingly describes a remarkable failure to act on his part and brings shame to the Jesuit tradition.
Peter Glazer, BC ’99, said it best following Leahy’s dismissal of student concerns in 1997: “I hold the Jesuits dear in my heart. … But that man is not a Jesuit to me, not a priest, not a man to be leading a University.”
There’s an old, often misquoted line from John Stuart Mill that I would like to amend for this situation: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
Mill argues that evil succeeds when good people do nothing. The thing is, good people don’t do nothing. As the Jesuits have taught me over the past eight years, in response to injustice, good people do something. Well, time and time again, Leahy has encountered injustice at BC. And, time and time again, he has done nothing.
Former Heights opinions columnist and BC ’21