The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Actualizing a zero-tolerance policy

Grappling with the recent grand jury report

A grand jury report released on Aug. 14 revealed the extent of a decades-long sexual abuse cover-up in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses. Approximately 1,000 children were abused by 300 priests over a period of 70 years dating back to the 1950s.

Since The Boston Globe initially broke the story in 2002 of sexual abuse by clergymen in Boston, allegations of Catholic priests using their power and station to sexually abuse children in their care, and the Catholic Church’s concealment of that abuse, have reached dioceses all over the world.

An email sent out by University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D. on Aug. 22 revealed that a priest mentioned in the report, Fr. William Presley, worked at St. Joe’s during the 1976-1977 academic year and has since died. Presley, while not a Jesuit, presumably had regular contact with students through his role in the Division of Student Life.

The report identifies Fr. Presley as being placed on a “leave of absence” from his clerical duties during the timeframe when he was employed at St. Joe’s.

The Globe’s initial reporting on the abuse cover-up in Boston revealed that the term “leave of absence” was among several used to identify priests who had been temporarily removed from parishes after allegations of sexual abuse.

The revelation that one of the priests mentioned in the grand jury’s report was employed by St. Joe’s is highly disturbing. It also raises the question of how the St. Joe’s community, as a Jesuit university in 2018, must respond to the history of abuse outlined in this report, and how we can best utilize resources such as the $300,000 federal grant we were awarded last year from the Office of Violence Against Women, which has already led to the hiring of a sexual misconduct prevention specialist.

Although the report reveals abuse that took place decades ago, it speaks to a larger, still-prevalent issue involving the Catholic Church’s protection of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. The fact that such a priest worked at our University should serve as a reminder of the immediacy and urgency of the issue. We have a responsibility to exemplify a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse and assault, rather than just proclaim it.

Reiterating the zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse at St. Joe’s is not enough. We must address the issue in a way that ensures survivors on our campus are supported and prevents the epidemic of sexual abuse outlined in the grand jury’s report from becoming something that we discuss only while it is a headline.

Whether it is establishing a training by a third party sexual assault prevention network on the best ways to support victims, or holding a campus-wide discussion on the recent report, it is imperative that St. Joe’s responds to this grand jury report in action as well as in word.

Although we will always be affiliated with the Catholic Church as a Jesuit institution, we must, on this issue, continue to learn from the mistakes of the Church in its handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Abuse within the Church became an epidemic in part because of decades of priests being “reassigned” or placed on “leaves of absence,” rather than permanently removed from their positions.

As a university, we are continuously looking for ways to combat sexual violence on our campus and support survivors in a manner that is in line with our Jesuit values. We have an obligation to do so in a way that addresses and acknowledges the crisis of sexual abuse complicity within the Catholic Church.

St. Joe’s has shown that it is more than capable of providing support to survivors and that we have the resources to do so. Now more than ever, we are in a position to confront the crisis of sexual abuse directly and permanently.

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