A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. - Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

February 20, 2020

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Community,

In March of last year, I wrote to the campus community about several steps we are taking in response to the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church, based on the recommendations of the two task forces I had appointed in the fall of 2018. I write today to review the good work that has been done over the past year, and to tell you of important upcoming events and initiatives.

Recommendation 1: Initiate prominent, public events to educate and stimulate discussion

The Church Crisis is the subject of the 2019-20 Notre Dame Forum, Rebuild My Church. On September 25, 2019, we hosted a panel that discussed various aspects of the crisis. The panelists were Peter Steinfels, a journalist who has written extensively on the crisis; Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of clergy abuse and advocate for victims; Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive director who established and led the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori; and moderator John Allen, editor of Crux.

On November 13, 2019, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who leads the Vatican effort to combat sexual abuse, was interviewed by John Allen.

We look forward to a conference entitled, Called and Co-Responsible: Exploring Co-Responsibility for the Mission of the Catholic Church on March 4–6, 2020. Sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life and part of this year’s Forum, the conference will bring together distinguished lay and clerical leaders to explore the responsibility lay people and clergy share for the Church and its mission.

I believe these events, among others on campus, have fostered discussion, and as outlined below, we will seek to continue the dialogue in the months ahead.

Recommendation 2: Offer Presidential research grants

The University offered $1 million in Presidential grants to Notre Dame faculty members to support research addressing various aspects of the crisis and its aftermath. A number of proposals were submitted, and I want to thank all faculty who submitted proposals. Bob Bernhard, vice president for research, formed a faculty committee to review and make recommendations for funding. Ten proposals were funded from fields as diverse as theology, history, law, economics, political science, social ethics, psychology and music.

In the coming year, many of the funded projects will lead to public events on campus, which will allow us at Notre Dame to continue the conversation on various aspects of the crisis.

In addition to research funded by these Presidential grants, the McGrath Institute for Church Life funded and conducted a survey of seminarians about the safety of the environment in their seminaries. The lay-led, first-of-its-kind survey produced an important report and John Cavadini, professor of theology and director of the McGrath Institute, continues to work with bishops and seminary rectors to make the environment of seminaries ever stronger.

Recommendation 3: Redouble efforts to create a culture of accountability and transparency on Notre Dame’s campus

Complementing our efforts in service of the Church, we will continue to take steps to foster a culture at Notre Dame in which misconduct of any kind is reported and addressed. We, of course, are motivated not only by the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, but also by stories about failures to address ongoing misconduct at distinguished peer institutions.

As you may know, the University conducts a survey of staff every two years, ND Voice. In 2019, as it has in the past, the survey revealed many encouraging results with generally a very high level of engagement and satisfaction among employees regarding their workplace at the University. The survey results indicated that one possible area for growth is in encouraging employees on campus to speak up, whether to express concerns or share ideas about how to work together better, and to ensure that managers respond appropriately when they do.

To help us become better in this regard, the Office of Human Resources has designed a program entitled, Living Notre Dame’s Values: Strengthening a Culture of Candor, Integrity and Respect. The President’s Leadership Council and the Deans’ Council, the senior leadership of the University, were the first to go through this program at their meeting in January. In coming months, we hope to have all who manage staff at the University participate in this training. We believe this program will be an important step in strengthening our culture of candor, integrity and respect among all who work at Notre Dame.

In addition, the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP) continues to be instrumental in recommending initiatives that will prevent sexual violence involving students on our campus. The Green Dot bystander intervention program is introduced to all incoming students and almost two thousand students, faculty or staff have completed the in-depth training program. We have also expanded alternative resolution options that give students more choices in addressing a report of sexual misconduct.

All investigations of complaints of sexual or discriminatory harassment by employees or students have been consolidated under the Office of Institutional Equity led by Erin Oliver, assistant vice president for institutional equity.

Finally, as a reminder, any member of the campus community may call the ND Integrity Line (1-800-688-9918) with concerns about misconduct of any kind. To learn more about this option, as well as about other avenues to report concerns, please visit president.nd.edu/reporting-concerns

Recommendation 4: Train graduates for effective leadership during and beyond the crisis

Our Master of Divinity program in theology which trains pastoral leaders, our Alliance for Catholic Education teacher and leadership programs, and our ECHO programs continue their work of training leaders for the Church and in educational settings who will be aware of policies and procedures to prevent sexual abuse.


For those of us who are Catholic and for Notre Dame as a Catholic institution, our goal should not be to “resolve” the crisis or to “put it behind us.” Even as we work to eliminate such terrible abuse, we should never tire of listening to, walking with and supporting survivors. We must also continually seek to strengthen procedures for reporting and addressing abuse or misconduct of any kind, and for fostering a culture in which misconduct is reported and properly addressed.

In the Gospels, it is often those engulfed in shame and despair who were most open to Jesus’ call to conversion. For the Church institutionally, but perhaps for all of us in some way, there is the possibility for greater humility, greater solidarity with all who suffer, greater transparency, greater honesty about our failings and a deeper commitment to repentance and reform. As we look forward to the season of Lent, let us pray for the gift of conversion.

In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.