The initial and primary concern the report raises for the SLUH administration is to ensure that the students and greater SLUH community know that the school is a safe place for young people and to acknowledge the hurt of both the abused and the entirety of the Church.
In a statement that was published on the SLUH website, SLUH President Alan Carruthers said that “we at St. Louis University High were shocked and saddened by the recently released Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Our SLUH community wants to honor and recognize the pain that has been caused by elements of our Church and clergy. We are committed to the safety and protection of our students, and we are grateful for our Jesuit Province’s leadership in rebuilding trust and affirming accountability.”
“First of all, I want (SLUH students) to know that SLUH is a safe place. That’s my primary concern,” said theology department chair Jon Ott. “We are a Catholic school, and sometimes I think that just like any group, like I was saying before, if one part of the church is hurting, the whole church is hurting. So maybe there is the temptation to view Catholic institutions with a greater degree of skepticism or to be wary, and so I want my students, like I always do, to feel like this is a place where it’s like a second home to them—a place that’s safe.”
Upon the release of the report, Carruthers issued an online response and also published letters from the Very Rev. Ronald A. Mercier, S.J., Provincial of the USA Central and Southern Province Jesuits; the Very Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., Superior General of the Jesuits; and Pope Francis. The letters and Carruthers’ response can be found of the SLUH website. Carruthers also sent his response and the letters to nearly 14,000 alumni and SLUH affiliates via email.
In an interview, Carruthers reinforced the idea that the necessary response is one of action.
“This has to be about action. This cannot be a passive response,” said Carruthers.
This action is in part taking place in the form of an exhaustive review of SLUH’s own policies and procedures concerning sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.
As soon as they were able, several administrators, including SLUH Principal Ian Gibbons, S.J., and Carruthers, as well as other members of SLUH’s leadership team, met to read the complete report and discuss the protocols that SLUH has in place and future responses involving both faculty and students.
“When the news came out, it was shock, horror, and a sense of ‘we have to do something,” said SLUH Principal Ian Gibbons, S.J.. “It has certainly caused us to redouble our efforts to look at our protocols, to make sure we’re communicating our expectations and our standards, as a school, as a place where primarily the young people in our charge can be safe. We can’t educate, we can’t form anyone, unless they’re safe.”
In an effort to ensure a coordinated response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, the SLUH administration has reached out to other Jesuit institutions in the St. Louis area, as well as the Central and Southern Province. Carruthers, Gibbons, and other administrators have been in contact with institutions, including Loyola Academy and De Smet Jesuit.
“The second part is to act and to uphold the protocols that we have in place, to communicate those with vigilance and to have no tolerance for deviation from the course of protecting those that we serve,” said Gibbons.
There are many policies within SLUH, the archdiocese of St. Louis, and the Central and Southern Province that aim to prevent abuse, many of which are very similar. All adults who work with minors in the St. Louis Archdiocese, including at SLUH, are required to complete the Protecting God’s Children course, presented by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc., that trains adults how to recognize potential abuse situations, and how to properly report them. Jesuit faculty at SLUH must abide by both the policies of SLUH and the Central and Southern province. In addition, all faculty, by law, are mandated reporters, meaning they must, under all circumstances, report any abuse situations to higher authority and local law enforcement.
If an accusation were to be brought against any SLUH faculty or staff member, the first step of the administration would be to listen to the accuser and look into whether or not the basic facts of the accusation point simply to the possibility of the accusation being credible. This does not depend on if the accusation is undoubtedly credible, but rather if it is possible that the situation could have transpired. If it is confirmed the situation would have been possible, then local law enforcement would be contacted and the individual would be seperated from the school. Administrators would also contact the Central and Southern Province.
After taking more than a week to review policies and procedures and formulate a more comprehensive response, an all faculty and staff meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 5 before the late-start school day began. The meeting took the place of previously scheduled department meetings, which were moved to Tuesday, Sept. 4, when a late start was added to the schedule to accommodate for them.
The meeting had six main components: a summary about the entire sexual abuse scandal that has transpired since the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report; a discussion of SLUH’s response; a reiteration of SLUH’s policies and procedures; an update on future SLUH responses and plans relating to the scandal; an address by a representative of the Central and Southern Province; and a question and answer opportunity.
Gibbons and Carruthers presented on the aspects concerning SLUH and the overview of the sexual abuse scandal situation while Deacon Phil Hengen, who is a licensed social worker and has worked for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and currently works for the Central and Southern Province in handling protection of children, gave an overview of how Archdiocesan policies have changed throughout past years and explained the policies and practices of the Central and Southern Province.
“I think people were appreciative that the school has called the meeting and making clear to everyone that this is important and that we intend to get out in front of it,” said Assistant Principal for Mission Jim Linhares.
“It’s important to pull everybody together and we want to make sure everyone is hearing the same message,” said campus minister Meg Beugg.
The main idea that was reinforced was that this response is an ongoing process and will continue to unfold, and that this issue is an issue of culture that SLUH must address.
However, the discussions about school policies and procedures go beyond faculty and staff. Carruthers is in the process of meeting with school lawyers to examine SLUH’s current policies and procedures to ensure they are up to date and provide adequate protection to students as well as looking into whether or not they should be changed. Also with the lawyers, Carruthers will be examining records of any past sexual abuse situations that have occurred at SLUH to make certain they were handled appropriately and justly.
According to Carruthers and the Rev. Paul Sheridan, S.J., President Emeritus, no known credible accusations have been made since 2002, when an alumnus accused Fr. Jack Campbell, S.J., of abusing him while he was a student at SLUH in the late 1960s and early 70s. At the time the alumnus came to Sheridan, there were several other accusations against Campbell. Eventually, a settlement of $185,000 was reached and paid by the Society of Jesus.
Despite the abuse happening nearly 35 years prior, Sheridan took it upon himself to review the at-the-time current policies and practices of the school, which had last been revised 11 years earlier in 1991, as well as inform students and alumni of the accusations. He invited the provincial to speak with media who gathered outside the school to cover protests by the survivor network of those abused by priests and arranged an all school assembly so he could address the situation with students.
Sheridan issued a letter to alumni in which he asked if any alums had been abused while at SLUH. Several alumni responded they had.
“We were forthright from the moment we could do it,” said Sheridan, who initially was not given permission by the alumnus to act on the accusations. “SLUH was so explicit and forthright in making the facts known to the public.”
Following the 2002 accusations, Sheridan made several changes within the school to help prevent future sexual abuse. Such changes included adding windows to every office and classroom, adding dividers between urinals in men’s restrooms, and changing policy so Jesuits could not drive any student unless there is another adult or multiple students in the car.
“There’s a whole series of policies that the school has inaugurated in my time and then subsequently have deepend,” said Sheridan.
According to Sheridan, the policies put in place have been effective in preventing sexual abuse from happening at SLUH.
Sheridan, along with the many others in the school community, was devastated in 2002 when he learned that sexual abuse had taken place at SLUH. The new current-day reports have brought about much of that same devastation.
“I’m back to feeling so saddened because my work for 20 years has been taking care of abused children … so I saw the other side of it, where confidence and self-esteem were ripped away, where anger, subdued anger, was present and where the uncertainty of who they are in sense of identity was challenged,” said Sheridan.
In addition to an administrative response, SLUH theology teachers are looking at various ways of responding to the scandal within the classroom.
“The job of a theology teacher in a high school really is also kind of like a catechist,” said Ott. “I’m not just trying to teach about theology and neither are my colleagues. We’re trying to present the church and the Gospel in a way that’s appealing and in a way that our students gravitate towards it and is life giving. And when stuff like this happens, it’s also sad on another level. It makes that task much harder to do.”
In a beginning of the year department meeting, one theology department member brought up the pending release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. After discussing possible responses, the department reached out to Gibbons for guidance on how to respond to students in class as well as a school-wide response. One of the fruits of these meetings was the idea of the importance of truth.
“As far as specifically discussing it in theology classes, one of the things that comes out of this is this value for truth and how vital it is to deal in the truth. I think we’re all on the same page that the truth, no matter how ugly it is, is the most important thing to uphold,” said Ott.
“I think the trust is very important,” said the Rev. Joseph Hill, S.J., theology teacher and Director of Campus Ministry. “We shouldn’t be hiding anything. We should be clear about what’s out there, you know, informing people on all the facts”
At the moment, conversations about specific plans to address students in class are still taking place. One concern is the appropriate kind of discussion for the various grade levels.
“I think we also have to be concerned for the developmental stages of the students. I think seniors are ready to discuss this in a way that is different than in a way freshmen are ready to discuss it,” said Ott. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it with freshmen, but it just means that the types of conversations and maybe the amount of time allotted to them will be different depending on which classes.”
Despite the wariness of the age difference and developmental stages, this will not hinder future discussions.
Similar to the Theology Department, Campus Ministry is still in the process of formulating tangible responses.
“We in Campus Ministry want to support the faith formation of our students and if they’re having struggles, we’re going to try to help counsel that,” said Hill.
At the moment, one proposal is to address the student body during the All Saints Day Mass on Nov. 1.
Campus Ministry would help facilitate the planning of the Mass.
In addition to the All Saints Day Mass, the Senior Pastoral Team is pursuing the idea of facilitating a forum of sorts for students to gather together and learn more of the facts of the sexual abuse scandal, and then talk about the effects that the scandal has had on them. This idea came from several team members who had heard about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the scandal in homilies and other places, but did not know what actually happened.
“At Mass, every week it seems like they’re talking about scandal, and they never define what scandal is and they never really talk about it. If they talk about what’s actually going on and inform people, they are more likely not to know wrong information and they won’t jump to conclusions about issues that they don’t understand,” said Senior Pastoral Team member Alfie Arun.
One common goal that every administrator and faculty member has in the upcoming weeks is to ensure that students lean on their faith rather than dispose of it.
“When students are grappling with it, I think that’s a good thing,” said Ott. “What would be worse is if students just didn’t care.”
In addition, they want students to realize that the church is the whole community of believers, not just the clergy, and that Catholics have a responsibility to constantly push for the betterment of it.
“The church is not defined by the actions of some men, even of some leaders. It’s much much greater than that,” said Hill. “The Jesuits came into existence when there was a lot of corruption in the church as well in the 16th century. Saint Peter Faber, when he went to Germany, he wrote a letter back to Ignatius—it is a very famous letter—saying that the primary problem that the church in Germany has is the waywardness of clergy. Immorality, basically. He says that if we could sort out the moral problems, the doctrinal problems would go away. That’s how he interpreted that. Maybe we’re kind of in the same kind of time. Maybe it’s some of these moral problems that are more problematic, the moral corruption. Pope Benedict said, when he responded to it, that this is the corruption that happened inside the church and we have to change, we have to be converted and we have to be transformed.”
“We’re an imperfect church that I believe is gradually being brought closer and closer to what we’re supposed to be,” said Ott. “So that’s a process that involves a lot of mistakes and missteps and what we can do as members of that church is figure out how we can do the best we can to right those mistakes and pursue truths.”
Ultimately, the administration and faculty want students to know they should feel safe approaching an administrator or faculty member and that the administration and faculty are working to be witnesses of faith in dark times.
“Know that we are going to be very clear and deliberate in our response and that at any point, they should have zero resistance in approaching someone they trust if they have questions (or) concerns,” said Gibbons. “If they want to really just have someone to talk to, to process what does this all mean, what’s going on, any sort of questions they have, there should really be zero hesitancy.”
“I hope that we’re a kind of school, a kind of community, where we can give (students) a witness that is reassuring enough for you to know that your faith is worth living and that your confidence in those of us who lead and those of us who encourage you to keep the faith are worth following,” said Linhares.
“I want students to understand, that this is a safe place filled with adults who love them and adults that they can go to regardless if something bad has happened to them,” said Ott. “I want them to be able to simultaneously acknowledge the failures of our church as our people and the leadership of that church while also, instead of saying ‘because the church has failed in this regard, I’m out; see you later,’ to respond in saying ‘so this is how our church has failed, what can I do as part of our church to help it heal.’”
Readers are encouraged by the administration and faculty to read the letters written by Carruthers, Ron Mercier, S.J., Father General Arturo Sosa, S.J., and Pope Francis. They can be found on the SLUH website. To stay updated on issues pertaining to the clerical sexual abuse scandal, readers can go to https://juxtacrucem.wixsite.com/jxcr, a website created by Joe Slama, ’15.