With permission of The Observer, we republish below a forceful entreaty by the student body president and vice president and the student government chief of staff to Father Jenkins to rescind former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s honorary degree before he is compelled to act by a Vatican decision. They deplore Father Jenkins’s “refusal to take a stand on this deeply serious issue affecting our Catholic community. “As Notre Dame students,” they declare, “we are called to lead. We ask the administration to do the same.”
In several bulletins and a petition, we have pressed the same action upon Father Jenkins for the same compelling reasons. And now we have the striking irony of Father Jenkins refusing to take down Notre Dame’s award to the man who has done more damage to the Church and its priests in this country than anyone in living memory while covering the mural memorializing the man who brought the Church to the New World.
There will be no honor in taking action only when and if a Vatican decision leaves no choice.
Fr. Jenkins: It is time to lead.
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, February 6, 2019
In June of 2018, news broke that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor 48 years ago and that the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York found the allegation to be “credible and substantiated.” McCarrick has since been accused of also abusing an 11-year-old boy for a continuous 20-year period. The Vatican is now investigating a third instance of abuse of a minor by McCarrick. It has also been revealed that McCarrick was accused of sexually abusing seminarians, abusing his power by preying on vulnerable adults under his control. Pope Francis has removed McCarrick from the College of Cardinals — an unprecedented decision — and sentenced him to “observe a life of prayer and penance in seclusion.” It is now evident that McCarrick will not receive a canonical trial and will instead be subject to an administrative penal process. This signifies that the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that McCarrick is guilty and the University should rescind McCarrick’s honorary degree without delay.
In 2008, Cardinal McCarrick delivered the commencement speech at Notre Dame and received an honorary doctor of laws degree. Yet, despite the response from Pope Francis, the Archdiocese of New York and Catholic groups around the globe, Notre Dame has refused to rescind McCarrick’s degree. In a letter to the University community, Fr. Jenkins stated that although Notre Dame finds the actions of McCarrick to be “reprehensible” it will not make any decisions regarding his degree until a final decision in a case, after a canonical trial in Rome, is made.
Notre Dame should be at the forefront of combatting the clerical abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. As both an iconic institution and a leader in Catholic education, Notre Dame is responsible for setting a precedent of Catholic morality to which the world should look. Though Fr. Jenkins’s comments calling for a conclusion to the judicial process before rescinding McCarrick’s honorary degree are founded in the precedent of his approach to Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, this is a vastly different situation. The actions of Bill Cosby and Cardinal McCarrick mirror each other, but there is a fundamental difference — McCarrick’s status as a prominent member of our Catholic community, and a long history of association with our University, compels us to strongly condemn his actions.
Fr. Jenkins issued a statement earlier this school year saying that Catholic institutions that do not protect those who cannot protect themselves were guilty of “perversely exploiting the vulnerable and corrupting the young.” He continued to say that some bishops have done more to protect the wolves than the sheep. It is imperative that Fr. Jenkins act decisively and without delay so that his actions match his rhetoric as regards this crisis. Notre Dame should, as Fr. Jenkins stated, be a place that protects the vulnerable and nurtures the young. Just as we have stood tall to protect our DACA students and have remained steadfast on protecting all life, so too must we make it clear that Notre Dame will stand with survivors of sexual abuse, and specifically survivors of the clerical abuse crisis. As students have said before, refusing to stand against a perpetrator of sexual assault sends the message that we are embarrassed to be associated with sexual assault survivors, and we are not willing to break the silence surrounding sexual assault.
Fordham University, Catholic University of America and the University of Portland have all rescinded honorary degrees from McCarrick. The University of Portland, another Holy Cross institution, cited its “commitment to fostering a world that is free from sexual assault, sexual harassment or other forms of violence” in its revocation. So too should Notre Dame be committed to a world free from all forms of violence, especially sexual assault. Honorary degrees are supposed to be given as a marker of a contribution that someone has made for the betterment of society. McCarrick’s heinous transgressions render his possession of such a degree absurd, a truth well-realized by our fellow Catholic institutions. It is disquieting — disturbing, even — to see our institution, refusing to take a stand on this deeply serious issue affecting our Catholic community.
As Notre Dame students, we are called to lead. We ask the administration to do the same.
senior, student body president
senior, student body vice president
senior, student government chief of staff
Student Government Department of Gender Relations
Student Government Department of Faith & Service
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
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