President’s Blog: Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Child Sex Abuse by Priests

Written by Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
August 20, 2018

I have heard from trustees and many in our community how shaken you were by the report from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests over a 70-year period and the failure to prevent, including the cover-ups, these horrendous crimes by bishops and others. When we read of 300 priests and 1,000 victims it does indeed shock and sadden us. We keep the survivors foremost in our hearts knowing their pain and hurt endure long after the abuse.

When I read the news article one early morning this past week in the New York Times, I immediately felt truly shaken by the summation from an external body with this authority of how systemic the abuse and cover-ups were. It further deepened in me how serious this truly is and how much of an undermining of the trust of Catholics this is. I was told that very day by a friend, "I know you as ‘a man of God,’ but Steve, how painful this must be for you as a priest." A trustee called in order to talk with me about how undermined as a Catholic and as someone called on to advocate for Seattle U as Catholic university he was by this report. I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate Mass and preach about this and then to have a discussion with the Jesuits of our community about what we need to do.

Since then we have heard responses from the Pope, from the U.S. bishops, from our Jesuit provincial, from our own archbishop, and from others. As I indicated in a personal message to trustees this past weekend, I cannot add to what they and others have expressed except to ask myself and our trustees, the responsible authorities of this Catholic and Jesuit university: 1) what more we can do to repent; 2) how we can support reform of the structures of the Catholic church which allowed this to occur; 3) how we can help and reassure our Catholic students, alumni, friends, donors and board members in their faith and their lives as Catholics; 4) how we must review and be extra certain of our own university policies which prevent sexual abuse in any of its forms; and 5) what particular role as a Jesuit and Catholic university we can play in promoting a wider societal protection of all vulnerable persons. It is a topic we will discuss further at our next board meeting.

I welcome the views and input of all members of our university community. In the meantime, I share with you this link to a New York Times Op-Ed by Fr. Jim Martin, S.J., which I think is especially insightful and helpful. Fr. Martin will be our honorary degree recipient and undergraduate commencement speaker this coming June.