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.
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?