Call on Georgetown to Revoke Honorary Degrees and Tell Cardinal Wuerl to Resign

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The Pennsylvania Grand Jury recently released a lengthy report detailing horrific allegations of child sexual abuse against over 300 Catholic priests in dioceses across the state of Pennsylvania. While serious efforts are underway to expose and prosecute the perpetrators named in the report, the process of accountability is far from complete, and will never be complete unless Catholic institutions and laypeople demand it. That is why we must join together to request that members of the administration of Georgetown University do the following things:

  • Make a statement unequivocally condemning the actions of Church leaders who have committed or covered up abuse, both in Pennsylvania and across the United States
  • Call on Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the former bishop of Pittsburgh and current Archbishop of Washington D.C., to resign immediately
  • Revoke the honorary degree granted to Cardinal Wuerl by Georgetown in 2014
  • Revoke the honorary degree granted to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick by Georgetown in 2004

Cardinal Wuerl was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, at a time when up to 100 priests accused in the Grand Jury report were serving under his leadership. To Wuerl's credit, he has taken steps in the past to strengthen institutional mechanisms for uncovering and punishing sex abuse in the Church. However, the report indicates that Wuerl's aspirational rhetoric has not been backed up by his actions.
On one instance, Wuerl approved the transfer of a priest formerly assigned to the Pittsburgh diocese despite there being multiple child abuse allegations against him, many of which were detailed in the Church's own records. That priest went on to serve in schools and parishes in which he was in continuous contact with children. Later, more allegations surfaced against the priest, and Wuerl was made aware that the priest's new diocese in California had decided to keep him on. Wuerl did nothing about it.
In the 1990s, Wuerl allowed a particularly reprehensible priest, George Zirwas, to return to ministry despite multiple individuals having come forward alleging that Zirwas fondled and raped them. Also in the 90s, Wuerl agreed to pay another predator priest, Richard Zula, $1000 a month upon his release from prison for child rape, seemingly to prevent him from reporting other priests.
In 2014, Georgetown granted an honorary degree to Cardinal Wuerl for his “extraordinary example of faith and service.” In 2004, an honorary degree was also granted to Cardinal McCarrick, who recently resigned from the College of Cardinal after reports emerged that he sexually abused a teenager and took advantage of young seminarians. Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal McCarrick forfeited their right to Georgetown’s recognition, and their honorary degrees should be revoked.
For years, leaders in the Church have passed the buck on child sex abuse by transferring priests to other parishes when allegations arose, denying knowledge of criminal conduct, and insisting that abuse is limited to few isolated incidents. That is no longer acceptable. To cover up child abuse is almost just as horrendous as committing it.

As a Jesuit university, Georgetown is obligated to speak out against injustice, especially when our own leaders in D.C. neglect that duty. As the Vatican said just a few days ago, "The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur." Georgetown has the opportunity to ensure that accountability and enact reform in the Catholic Church.
If we fail to act, we will fall behind other Catholic institutions such as Catholic University of America, whose President recently released a letter criticizing Pennsylvania church leaders for their conduct and who, in July, revoked Cardinal McCarrick’s honorary degree. Moreover, if we do not act, we will fail to live up to the Jesuit values we so proudly espouse.
If you agree with the call to action laid out above, please sign this petition. We intend to deliver the petition to the Georgetown administration after enough signatures are collected.

Austin Rose, Col '18

Max Rosner, Col '18

Tomás Álvarez Belón, SFS '18

Grace Laria, SFS ’19