Names Of Accused Bishops To Be Removed From Buildings At 2 Catholic Pa. Colleges

Aug 22, 2018
Originally published on August 23, 2018 3:37 pm

Officials at the University of Scranton and King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. have announced that buildings once honoring now-disgraced bishops will be renamed and that the bishops' honorary degrees will be revoked.

The move is part of the continuing fallout in the state and across the country from last week's massive report on clergy sex abuse. As the full effect of the sweeping grand jury report comes into view, many Catholic schools and universities feel as if they are in the eye of the storm and are taking steps to separate themselves from the havoc that the report has spread.

Two other Pennsylvania schools are also considering renaming campus sites dedicated to bishops accused of systemically concealing decades of abuse.

And high schools are beginning to re-examine once-hallowed Catholic Church figures, too. In the Pittsburgh area, a school bearing the name of Cardinal Donald Wuerl is being renamed after the report accused him of reassigning priests who allegedly abused children. It was a decision made at the request of Wuerl himself.

The University of Scranton was the first in Pennsylvania to react, deciding to remove the names of three bishops from buildings. University President Scott Pilarz wrote in a letter to faculty and students at the Jesuit school that the decision was made as a way of showing "sympathy for and solidarity with" victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton.

That means new building signage. Plaques will be taken down. Maps will be reprinted. And honorary degrees will be revoked from the three Scranton bishops — Jerome Hannan, James Timlin and J. Carroll McCormick — who are accused of assisting in the cover-up. More than 1,000 minors were abused at the hands of some 300 priests across the state, according to the report.

The students and faculty milling about the sleepy campus in the Pocono Mountains on a recent visit seemed to all share the same view: It was the right choice for the the school taking an early stance on the Pennsylvania report that has reverberated around the world.

"I don't think it's being disrespectful to the church," said Adam Pratt, an assistant history professor at the University of Scranton. "What these men have done is beyond the pale. And it's not the values that we teach here at the University of Scranton."

Pratt said he's encouraged the university was the first to act on the Pennsylvania attorney general's grand jury report. Yet he hopes renaming the buildings is "part of a healing process and coming to a reckoning that I think is an important thing that we need to do as a community," he said.

Jeff Welsh, also a historian at the University of Scranton, added that removing the names will make space for the university to honor people who have contributed positively to the church.

"We're going to take away that recognition and recognize people instead who really have made a positive step forward for the Catholic Church. I think that's great," Welsh said. "I'm impressed the university took such a proactive stance."

Welsh took note of the fact that, according to the university, McCormick Hall will be renamed MacKillop Hall in honor of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, an Australian nun who publicly uncovered the sexual abuse of children by a priest in the late 1800s.

Senior Jack Prendergast, who serves in student government at the University of Scranton, said the despite having walked past the three buildings countless times, he never stopped to question to whom the structures were devoted.

"I never put much thought into it. If someone were to ask me, I would've said, 'they're probably prestigious and well-upheld people to have their names put on a building,' " Prendergast said. "It's good that people have shed the light on this."

Laura Freedman, who will be a senior this year at the University of Scranton, said she was relieved to hear that the names of the accused bishops will be leaving campus.

"We're just happy that we're actually taking a stand on it and not just letting it slip under the rug kind of and trying to ignore it," said Freedman, who is Catholic, like the majority of students at this Jesuit school.

Ignoring the scandal is what professors here are strenuously trying to avoid, as faculty scrambles to assemble a response a week before fall semester begins.

Since the report was publicly released last week, professors have been racing to update the upcoming semester's coursework and arrange eleventh-hour meetings on how to teach the ugly findings of the nearly 900-page document that has battered the Catholic Church far beyond Pennsylvania.

"I'm rethinking how I'm going to start this semester just in light of what's happening in the past two weeks," Welsh said.

For the theology faculty, Chris Haw says that with three notable bishops being symbolically expelled from campus, the report has acquired new urgency for his students.

"Our department has already started exchanging some emails about what we are going to do to, perhaps on Day 1, name this elephant in the room," Haw said.

Haw hopes the school's self-reflection does not end with new building names. He said holding public forums could be productive for members of the campus community who feel unresolved about the decision.

"In cases like this, some people want to become very defensive and maybe sort of trenchantly defending the church, when so many other people are saying, this is not the time for you to be defensive," Haw said. "We need to be ventilating this big time right now."

A spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton released a statement that did not take a position on the renamed buildings directly. Instead, the diocese spokesman said the organization supports helping survivors of abuse and their families achieve healing.

The University of Scranton's administration would not agree to interviews. But in his letter to faculty and students, the school's president said he hopes the decision will start the "long but hopeful process to rebuild trust and find peace."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The fallout from the priest abuse report is spreading across Catholic schools in Pennsylvania. Officials at the University of Scranton, King's College in Wilkes-Barre and a Pittsburgh-area high school have announced that buildings once honoring now-disgraced church leaders will be renamed. And at least two other Pennsylvania schools are considering taking similar steps as the child sex abuse scandal forces a reexamination of once-hallowed figures. Reporter Bobby Allyn reports from Scranton.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: In a letter to students and faculty, University of Scranton president Scott Pilarz said as a way of showing, quote, "sympathy for and solidarity with" victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton, the names of three bishops will be removed from buildings. None of the three are Jesuits, but the religious order has been hit with its share of sexual abuse accusations. For the Jesuit school, that means new names on new signs. Plaques will be taken down. Maps will be reprinted. And honorary degrees will be revoked from the three Scranton bishops who are accused of concealing widespread child abuse.

ADAM PRATT: I don't think it's being disrespectful to the church or anything like that.

ALLYN: Adam Pratt is a history professor at the school.

PRATT: What these men have done is beyond the pale.

ALLYN: He's encouraged the university was the first to confront the Pennsylvania attorney general's grand jury report. But he says, hopefully renaming the buildings is...

PRATT: Part of a healing process and, you know, coming to a reckoning that I think is an important thing that we need to do as a community.

ALLYN: As we were talking outside of the university's history department building, Pratt's colleague walked over to us to amplify what Pratt was saying. His name is Jeff Welsh. He's also a historian.

JEFF WELSH: We're going to take away that recognition and recognize people instead who really have made a positive step forward for the Catholic Church. I think that's great.

ALLYN: Welsh notes that it was not accidental that a building once dedicated to a disgraced bishop will now be named after an Australian nun who herself blew the whistle on a priest who was abusing children.

Among students and faculty milling about the sleepy campus a week before fall semester kicks off, it was hard to find anyone who didn't praise the school for taking an early stance on the Pennsylvania report, like Laura Freedman, who will be a senior this year at the University of Scranton. She's Catholic like most students here and was relieved to hear that the names of the accused bishops will be leaving campus.

LAURA FREEDMAN: We're just happy that we're actually taking a stand on it and not just letting it, like, slip under the rug kind of and trying to ignore it.

ALLYN: Ignoring it is what professors here are strenuously trying to avoid. Since the grand jury report was publicly released last week, Welsh and other professors have been racing to update the upcoming semester's coursework and holding 11th-hour meetings on how to teach the ugly findings of the nearly 900-page document that has battered the Catholic Church far beyond Pennsylvania.

CHRIS HAW: I'm rethinking how I'm going to start this semester just in light of what's happened in the past two weeks.

ALLYN: Theology professor Chris Haw says now with three notable bishops being symbolically expelled from campus, the report has acquired new urgency for his students.

HAW: Our department has already started exchanging some emails about what we are going to do, perhaps on day one naming this elephant in the room.

ALLYN: Haw hopes the school's self-reflection doesn't end with new building names. He says holding public forums could be productive for members of the campus community who feel unresolved about the decision.

HAW: In cases like this, some people want to become very defensive and maybe sort of trenchantly defending the church when so many other people are saying, this is not the time for you to be defensive. We need to be ventilating this big time right now.

ALLYN: A spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton released a statement that didn't take a position on the renamed buildings directly. Instead, the diocese spokesman said the church supports helping survivors of abuse and their families achieve healing. The University of Scranton's administration would not agree to interviews. But in his letter to faculty and students, the school's president said he hopes the decision will start the, quote, "long but hopeful process to rebuild trust and find peace." Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Scranton.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONLIT SAILOR'S "A WEEK WITHOUT SUNLIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.