The 2019-2020 Notre Dame Forum, “‘Rebuild My Church’: Crisis and Response,” hopes to re-examine the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church; how we can heal and how to reform. But what was the University’s reaction when news of the crisis first broke?
In the September 2002 edition of Scholastic, “Acting in the Aftermath” by Annie Robinson explored how University leaders first responded to that landmark Boston Globe investigation, which revealed how the Archdiocese of Boston — and later, we would learn, archdioceses across the country — protected and therefore enabled pedophilic priests. For Notre Dame, the reaction was slow, which paled in comparison to many other Catholic institutions and attracted a considerable amount of criticism.
Then under the leadership of Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy, the University initially declined to comment on the scandal, despite its reputation as the premier Catholic university in the United States. Instead, Notre Dame spokespeople waited until they felt they had the whole story. In the spring of 2002, Malloy led 11 faculty members in creating a “Church Study Committee,” which sought to address the crisis and propose next steps.
The Committee organized a “special Mass” before finals that semester as their first public address on the topic, but it was poorly publicized and ill attended. The Committee also sent a list of suggestions to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In comparison, Boston College, another leading Catholic university, responded to the investigation promptly and aggressively. Statements were made by the administration almost immediately, and a much more comprehensive social and educational program, “The Church in the 21st Century,” was quickly put into effect. While no doubt expedited by its proximity to the scandal, Boston College’s response was compared favorably to Notre Dame’s, with many feeling the University had caved to its conservative reputation, and in the face of a national crisis no less.
Despite the criticism, Notre Dame’s response also received its fair share of praise, including BC’s then-Chairman of Theology, Stephen J. Pope. “There is a good reason to be cautious,” he said. “These issues are very deep and there is danger in reacting too quickly. Some hesitation and some patience is a good idea.”