Why we need immediate action from the University

Rev. John I. Jenkins C.S.C announced August 2nd that Notre Dame will not yet rescind Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s honorary degree. This announcement followed the Archdiocese of New York’s June 20th finding that allegations of child sexual abuse against McCarrick are “credible and substantiated.” After this announcement, Pope Francis removed McCarrick from public ministry and ordered him to a life of “prayer and penance.” Father Jenkins explained that although he “sees no reason to question” the conclusion of the Archdiocese of New York, he will not make a decision on the degree until after a canonical trial has taken place.

Father Jenkins has made this decision in an effort to maintain intellectual consistency and fair uniformity. However, the reality is that this situation is entirely different from the precedent situation, which concerns Bill Cosby. In this case, dozens of allegations of sexual assault came to light against Cosby and many adamantly demanded Notre Dame remove his honorary degree. Despite the protests, Father Jenkins waited until Cosby was found guilty in a criminal trial on three counts of aggravated indecent assault before rescinding his degree.

Father Jenkins explicitly used the Cosby situation to justify his decision in McCarrick’s case on three separate occasions in his official statement. He began his statement by saying: “The only honorary degree that the University of Notre Dame has rescinded was that of Bill Cosby, and this action was taken only after judicial proceedings in criminal court concluded with a guilty verdict.” Thus, it seems Jenkins has determined that Notre Dame must stick to the precedent developed in the Cosby situation of waiting for a verdict before rescinding a degree.

I will not discuss the merits of Jenkins’ decision to wait for a verdict before rescinding Bill Cosby’s degree. I will simply suggest that even if postponing until a trial was the proper guideline for that situation, that reasoning should not apply in the case of McCarrick. The situation is entirely different here because Notre Dame is a Catholic institution and McCarrick is a Catholic cardinal. Because of this additional dimension to McCarrick’s case, and especially because he holds a position of authority in the Church, it is necessary to speak out definitively against McCarrick’s sins so as to prevent scandal in the Church and maintain the integrity of the Church at Notre Dame. These are both time-sensitive difficulties that were not present in the case of Bill Cosby. In addition, Father Jenkins is completely able to condemn McCarrick because as a Catholic institution, the University should act in accordance with the pope’s condemnation of McCarrick and his removal from the College of Cardinals.

By his sins, McCarrick gives scandal, meaning his immoral actions lead others to be shaken in their faith or to be led into sin because of his poor example. The scandal given by McCarrick is especially terrible because of his position as a teacher and authority figure of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing” (CCC 2285). As a cardinal, McCarrick’s sins of the sexual abuse of children and seminarians harms the integrity of the Church. He incites a corruption of virtue, and his actions bring confusion to the faithful. Unlike Bill Cosby, McCarrick’s sinful actions actively sow doubt and difficulties in the lives of Catholics. It is therefore necessary for the University to counteract this scandal by definitively condemning McCarrick.

It is also necessary to remove McCarrick’s degree so as to maintain the integrity of Catholicism at Notre Dame. For many years, Cardinal McCarrick has been very closely linked to faith at Notre Dame. He presided at the beatification Mass for Blessed Basil Moreau, he was the commencement speaker in 2008, and he held a prominent presence at Father Hesburgh’s funeral. When McCarrick received his honorary degree, Father Jenkins said, “For many years, Cardinal McCarrick has loyally advised, assisted, supported, and inspired our University community.” All of these ties with McCarrick need to be severed so that faith at Notre Dame can be promptly disassociated from the grave immorality of one of its Catholic leaders. It is tragic that the faith of our University has been so closely connected with someone who has committed such heinous crimes, but the best way to restore the integrity of Notre Dame and its Catholic identity is to take the action of denouncing McCarrick by rescinding his degree.

A canonical trial is not necessary to rescind Cardinal McCarrick’s degree. Pope Francis has already accepted McCarrick’s resignation, removed him from public ministry, and ordered him to a life of “prayer and penance.” As a Catholic university, the pope’s judgement on the appropriateness of a clergyman should suffice. However, Jenkins has come to a conclusion in McCarrick’s case that is inconsistent with the pope’s condemnation. This leaves us with the disconcerting situation of a man who has been stripped of his cardinalate, but not of his honorary degree from Notre Dame.

The goal in the decision concerning McCarrick’s degree should not be to retain unity and consistency across all related situations. Instead, the goal should be to make the most fitting decision for this particular case. Perhaps an immediate removal of McCarrick’s degree would not be considered fair, especially for those who advocated for the removal of Cosby’s degree. Yet the fact remains that with each day Notre Dame’s endorsement of McCarrick endures through his honorary degree, the University fails to confront the scandal caused by McCarrick. His degree should be immediately rescinded so that integrity can be restored as soon as possible.

Ellie Gardey is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame majoring in political science and philosophy. She is fond of coffee shops and thunderstorms. Contact her at egardey@nd.edu.