Creighton professor joins ‘Taking Responsibility’ program to address clergy sex abuse crisis
Creighton professor joins ‘Taking Responsibility’ program to address clergy sex abuse crisis

A Creighton University faculty member will serve as the University’s representative in a grant-funded program aimed at reckoning with the legacy of sexual abuse committed by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church.

Julia Feder, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Theology in Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been invited to join “Taking Responsibility: Jesuit Educational Institutions Confront the Causes and Legacy of Sexual Abuse,” an initiative developed by Fordham University. As part of the program, Fordham is bringing together a network of representatives from other Jesuit secondary and higher education institutions, including Creighton.

The ultimate aim of the initiative is to examine the relationship between Jesuit institutions of secondary and higher education and the Roman Catholic Church to determine how Jesuit educational institutions have, in the past, contributed to and concealed sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy.

“Jesuit institutions have certainly played a role in creating the crisis to begin with. They transferred offenders around when they knew what was happening instead of publicizing these crimes against children and letting victims know what was going on,” says Feder, whose doctoral research at the University of Notre Dame dealt with sexual violence. “I’m hoping through this initiative and through these conversations, that Jesuit educational institutions can become well-positioned to reckon with the legacy of this abuse.”

As a two-year grant-funded initiative, the project’s key goals, according to Fordham, are:

  1. To support rigorous investigations into how clerical sex abuse played out at Jesuit institutions.
  2. Provide resources that assist administrators, faculty, staff, students and others at these institutions to explore the causes and consequences of sexual abuse and the ethics of taking responsibility for it in the present.
  3. Facilitate a regular conversation through online and in-person meetings and host a major conference planned for spring 2022.
  4. Develop a partner network of Jesuit institutions to continue the work.

The first online meeting of representatives from the partner network is planned for Oct. 21, Feder says. The featured speaker will be the Rev. Gerard J. McGlone, SJ, senior research fellow at Georgetown University, who will present about the importance of preserving and retelling the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

“Any sort of reckoning on this would, in the first place, have to start with being really honest and transparent and genuinely curious about what happened,” Feder says.

Sexual violence, she says, is perpetuated through an environment of secrecy and shame.

“Because it is painful to acknowledge the reality of violence in our own communities, community members frequently transfer some of the guilt that belongs to a perpetrator to his victims,” Feder says. “This acts as a pressure release, soothing some of the pain and fear that can come with acknowledging the nonsense of evil in the world. Perpetrators generally welcome this transfer of guilt because it also allows them to escape full responsibility for their actions, and victim-survivors are placed in the impossible position of maintaining an inhuman level of moral perfection in order to get justice.”

“The way to really break that cycle of abuse is to make it clear that these kinds of actions and abuse happen. And they’re not OK,” Feder says. “We need to demonstrate that the people who report these things will get the support they need and not have their lives ruined or experience negative consequences just for trying to get help.”