As Stags begin to settle into the flow of college life, it’s important to recognize the incidents that happened over the summer in regards to Catholic church officials and sexual assault allegations and accusations against minors. On August 14, 2018 a Pennsylvania grand jury report released a list of over 300 priests who sexually abused over 1,000 children. The Washington Post reported that Pennsylvania’s dioceses covered-up the crimes of the priests and that many of the incidents of abuse are now too outdated to be prosecuted.
Several Jesuit and Catholic Universities across the United States have released statements about the grand jury report’s findings. One being Fairfield University’s neighbor, Sacred Heart University. Part of Sacred Heart’s statement reads: “We stand in solidarity with Pope Francis and his letter to all God’s people condemning the atrocities of the abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by the bishops. As he stated, ‘efforts to beg pardon would never be sufficient.’”
Although the University has seemingly remained quiet on the subject matter, President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D. released a statement to The Mirror. “Fairfield University will continue to serve these efforts in any way that we can, but most specifically as a University should, by encouraging dialogue, research, respectful conversation, and scholarship – and by holding ourselves as a community to the highest standards of humble self-examination and openness to true conversion of heart, so that we remain true to our mission to serve the faith and promote justice.”
The full statement can viewed on page four.
Dr. Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley chair in Catholic studies, and professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, said that, “First off, as a Catholic institution our responsibility is to share with the whole Catholic community the pain and disappointment of the whole Catholic community. As a Catholic institution of higher education, our responsibility is to help people understand it and to help heal and to work for the structural changes that need to be made.”
Fairfield University will be undertaking multiple steps to ensure that faculty, staff and students are given the opportunity to discuss and reflect on these recent events. Lakeland described that the University will be holding workshops through a joint Living Theology Forum and presidential seminar, which will include open dialogue and an opportunity for people to come and speak about what they are thinking and feeling. Additionally, there will be two presidential seminars open to faculty and staff to work on issues of abuse and the nature of the problem through the eyes of an educational institution. Lastly, Fairfield University will host an academic conference to work in collaboration with Fordham University and Sacred Heart in a joint initiative to work on this issue as Catholic institutions. These events will be held on the three different college campuses and will be open to all persons.
Lakeland stressed that “This [sexual assault allegations] is not just about Pennsylvania. I fully expect a lot of kinds of information to come from other dioceses in the next year or so.”
On September 7, 2018 the Associated Press reported that New York and New Jersey have launched their own investigations into Catholic dioceses.
Fairfield University as an institution is not as far removed from abuse allegations as one may think. In 2014, The Mirror reported that Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J., a former director of Campus Ministry, was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing an underage boy while on a service trip to Project Pierre Toussaint in Haiti. It’s important to note that, while at the time that the alleged incident occurred Carrier was director of Campus Ministry, he was not in Haiti on official Fairfield University business.
This civil suit came after incidents surfaced regarding Douglas Perlitz ‘92, the University’s 2002 commencement speaker. Perlitz was the founder of Project Pierre Toussaint, where he was accused of sexually abusing 24 underaged boys at the charity school. Perlitz pled guilty to charges in 2010 and will be in prison until 2026 according to the CT Post.
In 2013, Fairfield University and Carrier, among other defendants, were sued on the grounds of negligent supervision of Perlitz. This civil suit was settled in negotiations for $12 million, according to the 2014 Mirror article.
Fairfield University was also sued in 2014 for negligent supervision of Carrier. In 2016, the judge consolidating the lawsuit against the Society of Jesus of New England, Fairfield University, the Haiti Fund and others dropped charges of sex trafficking. However, the CT Post reported that other charges in the suit regarding Carrier remain open.
Carrier was suspended from the Society of Jesus in 2010, as reported by the CT Post pending investigation by the Jesuit order into his actions at Fairfield University and in Haiti. However, as of a 2014 New Haven Register article, Carrier was still suspended and living at a Weston, Mass. Jesuit center.
These allegations do not stop at the University level. In 2003 The Mirror published an article regarding Rev. Edmund Power and Rev. James Pratt, both of whom taught at the prep school, Power also serving as chaplain. These men were accused of sexual misconduct incidents that dated back 20 to 30 years. There was a letter from Fairfield Preparatory President Rev. Michael G. Boughton, S.J. that was sent in March of that year to parents and alumni regarding the accusations.
In that same article Dr. Lakeland was quoted, “I was both disappointed and not surprised, because there are very few institutions like this [Prep] in the Catholic Church that haven’t been touched in some way by the sex abuse crisis in the last 20 or 25 years.”
The Mirror reached out to Fr. Mark Scalese, S.J.,current director of Campus Ministry, for comment on the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Scalese referred The Mirror to the University’s Public Relations office. The President and Vice President of Fairfield University’s Marketing and Communications Department did not comment on the record.