Gleeson SJ in Philadelphia: inquiring student minds at work

Are we Catholics past the point of settling with accusers to avoid bad publicity and/or losing in court in sexual abuse and/or harassment matters? Rev. Thomas Gleeson SJ, outed three weeks ago in Philadelphia, could have had his day in court 11 years ago, but Jesuits fought the very idea and settled with the accuser, a former Jesuit scholastic. Case closed, end of story, they thought or hoped. Hardly.

As a campus chaplain at St. Joseph’s U., he had been placed in a position too public to be ignored by The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), and there he was again, in the very limelight he’d wanted to avoid by the settlement. And people in charge of his new place of employment tried once again to slide under publicity radar, and once again failed. (His crucial role in ousting a fellow Jesuit from the Wheeling Jesuit U. presidency — under suspicious circumstances partly of Gleeson’s own making — was a bad move by someone seeking anonymity.)

This time, Phila. Daily News coverage drove the St. Joe’s president, Rev. Timothy Lannon, S.J., to issue a university-wide memo “as students were finishing midterms and packing up for spring break,” as the student newspaper, The Hawk, noted this week. The memo was terse, even perfunctory: Gleeson had been accused but had been vetted by the Jesuits — “cleared for assignment,” a spokeswoman told the News.

Missing from the memo was “information concerning Gleeson’s history and subsequent settlement,” The Hawk’s editors wrote. Indeed, “the poorly worded statement created more questions and concerns than conclusions, and the university has yet to reveal how it plans to move forward with Gleeson’s case in the future,” they wrote in a carefully constructed editorial.

They added:

Given the enormous accusations currently levied against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it is surprising that Saint Joseph’s University officials did not think more carefully before responding in a seemingly distant and ineffective way.
The university could have opened the door for conversation about the circumstances and reasoning behind Gleeson’s hire, providing a great opportunity for community discussion on issues that are dominating Philadelphia’s headlines. Instead, St. Joe’s offered the same one-way declaration that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades.

Instead, the university offered “lackluster explanations” that did not inspire confidence. “When the university doesn’t defend their employees it makes it hard for students to get behind them with support,” the editorial noted.

That’s a fair description of how the Gleeson business has been handled, not only in Philadelphia but before that in West Virginia and before that in California. (It’s also how much or most priest abuse and/or harassment has been treated, for that matter.)

At what point, we must ask, does Jesuit loyalty to their own (as bishops’ to their priests) give way to the sort of “open communication” that has been respectfully requested by St. Joseph’s U. student editors?

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  • Mike Fahy  On March 20, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    Thanks to the editors of “The Hawk” for continuing to expose credibly accused homosexual predator Tommy Gleeson, S.J. Wheeling Jesuit University’s Protestant President keeps Tommy Gleeson as a trustee because the homosexual lawsuit for $1,000,000 against Gleeson was settled, but it was settled only because the Jesuits paid off the complaining witness. It is a disgrace to have Wheeling Jesuit U. represented by that despicable Jesuit trustee.


  • Erastus  On March 21, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Assuming all allegations against Gleeson are true, some dozen years ago he verbally propositioned an adult (25 year-old) male seminary student in a manner that the student found offensive. This gave the student a possible civil cause of action under EEOC guidelines which were established in the 1980s to address a type of employment discrimination based on offensive sexual conduct (although it remains unclear how the seminarian met the definition of an employee). Both the seminarian and Gleeson had their day in court, and both chose to settle out of court rather than risk an official court determination, as more than 90% of all civil litigants do.

    Do these facts justify vilifying the man and banning him from any association with institutions of higher learning for the rest of his life?

    I think Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote something on the general subject about 160 years ago.


  • Mike Fahy  On March 21, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Al Capone was never convicted of a violent crime either. Would Erastus (above comment) put Al in charge of the Public Safety Commission? That is analogous to what the Jesuits are doing with Gleeson.


  • Erastus  On March 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    The problem with arguing by analogy is that analogies are often in the eye of the beholder.

    Making a sexual advance — even an unwelcome one to a member of one’s own gender — does not seem analogous to a lifetime spent running crime syndicates, engaging in bootlegging, armed robbery, bribery, prostitution, assassination, rape and murder.

    Likewise, the job of Public Safety Commissioner, carrying authority to hire, fire, manage and control hundreds of subordinate law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency response teams, etc., does not seem particularly similar to a part-time university chaplain, who typically does not hire, fire, or control anyone.

    Another person might see similarities that I have missed, of course.

    A more interesting question: on what basis would one assume that Rev. Gleeson is an unrepentant sexual deviant incapable of controlling his behavior, doomed forever to victimize students? Does this reflect empirical reasoning, or prejudice and fear?


    • Jim Bowman  On March 22, 2011 at 11:22 AM

      At issue is a sexual advance within the confines of a religious community, representing an egregious violation of compact. That was in California. In Phila., as a chaplain part time or not, he is expected to have close contact with the object of his chaplaincy, in this case students again. In any case, the student newspaper wants more said about the Gleeson appointment; that’s reasonable.


      • Erastus  On March 22, 2011 at 11:50 AM

        Agreed, asking for more information is almost always reasonable. Reaching conclusions without facts can be a problem…


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