The shocking and horrifying sexual abuse scandal that has enveloped the Catholic world inevitably breached Fordham’s borders.
Nine Jesuits affiliated with Fordham in different ways were revealed to be sexual abusers, per a report by the Society of Jesus released on Jan. 15. This is the latest in the continuing sexual misconduct scandal that has left the global Catholic community reeling. An email disseminated throughout the Fordham network confirmed the five priests mentioned in the report and named an additional four offenders. All were connected to Fordham from the 1930s to the 1990s.
Though Fordham’s recent statements to the community and establishment of an Advisory Committee is a good start, ultimately, they are neither effective nor productive. While the creation of the committee is, in fact, a concrete step, it is difficult to place trust in university employees who have an inherent conflict of interest in cases like this.
That this report surfaced so late in the Church’s recent process of revelation and healing — and that Fordham’s acknowledgment only followed the writing on the wall — may be reasonable cause for many Fordham students and faculty to doubt whose interests Fordham truly holds dearest. A group of trustees with stakeholders’ interests in mind is not a valid protector of Fordham students.
As students, this report has broken our trust. Fordham has treated past cases of sexual abuse claims against priests as singular incidents: namely, those of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Roy A. Drake, S.J. The report, however, reveals a pattern of sexual abuse committed by priests at Fordham.
The university must not respond as it has before. This report is different. Fordham as an institution needs to rebuild our trust, and the community deserves to know that this scandal will remain firmly in the past in order for healing to occur. Those in power at the university must ensure that this cycle of abuse and cover-ups is not allowed to continue.
Fordham must take transparent and measurable steps to both acknowledge this permanent stain on our institution’s history and prevent atrocities like these from occurring again. More importantly, the student body should feel secure in knowing that the university is taking this issue seriously.
Because the report reveals a widespread history of assault on campus, an internal investigation of Fordham Jesuits may be a logical next step for the university to take. An outside assessment of the university and a strengthening of faculty put in place exclusively to protect students are actions that must be taken if the university would like to be trusted.
Whatever course of action is chosen, full transparency between the administration and the student body will be essential. In light of the recent reports of similar assault still taking place in states like Pennsylvania and Illinois, Fordham will need to be more vigilant and communicative than ever if it hopes to prevent additional instances of misconduct from occurring in the future.
The sexual misconduct issue Fordham faces is one of a gravity never before seen at our university. Fordham’s efforts to address it must be of the same caliber. We cannot pretend these Jesuit priests operated in a vacuum. Sexual abuse affects the entire Catholic Church, and those afflicted extend far beyond the reaches of the Fordham community.
However, Fordham is obligated to do its part. Students, faculty and alumni deserve to know how our proudly Catholic and Jesuit university will reconcile with its past and atone for the sins of many of their own.
Our trust is broken. What Fordham does next will determine if it can ever be fully healed.