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Open Letter to the US Catholic Bishops

An Open Letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Eve of Its Meeting to Discuss the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the American Catholic Church

Villanova University Task Force on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church

Dear United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,

The Catholic Church in the USA is at a defining moment.  Ever since revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests and a subsequent cover up by Catholic bishops shook the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, similar sordid tales have surfaced in other Catholic dioceses across the United States with regrettable regularity.  Nor is this a uniquely American phenomenon, as patterns of widespread sexual abuse and ecclesiastical malfeasance have emerged in a number of countries, including Chile, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Austria, Brazil, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  While difficult even to contemplate, this global crisis in the Church is likely to be only in the incipient stages.

While we applaud the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (2002) and subsequent revisions (2011, 2018) as well-intentioned attempts to erect structural protections for our children, and while we are also grateful to the USCCB’s Administrative Committee’s very recent attempt to rectify some of the shortcomings of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,[1] the USCCB still has not required American bishops to become mandatory reporters of suspected sexual abuse, despite the fact that the nefarious actions of certain bishops surreptitiously transferring sexually abusive priests from parish to parish, and in some cases from diocese to diocese, without notifying civil authorities of the suspected abuse has been one of the most demoralizing elements of this crisis. Children being abused by priests is tragic enough, but when our bishops, who are supposed to be our spiritual and moral leaders, not only abandon our children in their time of need but actually become complicit in that abuse by actively covering it up, we must ensure that effective and rigorous standards are instituted so that children will truly be safe. American bishops should never have the option of looking the other way and remaining silent again.  Therefore, we ask the USCCB at its upcoming meeting in November to make American Catholic bishops mandatory reporters to civil authorities of suspected child abuse.  

In addition, we ask the USCCB to launch and fund a long-term and multi-faceted study on this crisis.  While a great deal of information has been uncovered as a result of legal and civil proceedings, we are only beginning to understand what really happened. Quite clearly, the widespread nature of this crisis indicates systemic problems at every level in the Church, and piecemeal attempts to deal with these problems will be ineffectual.  What is sorely needed is rigorous, sustained attention from a range of competent laity -- including non-Catholics -- who will make sense out of the full range of contributory factors to this crisis, and who will also identify necessary structural adjustments and begin to develop the needed spiritual vision and practice that will both heal and renew the Church and the society so that this horrendous crisis may result in the creation of healthy human remedies. 

Finally, we ask the USCCB to begin the healing process by facilitating conversations about this crisis, both at the local parish level as well as at the national level in something akin to a truth and reconciliation commission.  Many more victims of sexual abuse will assuredly come forward whose lives have been torn asunder by abuse, and their parents, siblings, relatives, and friends will experience the sting of anger and guilt at what has happened to their loved ones.  The entire Catholic family is aghast at the abuse that has been perpetrated, and the only way to deal with the pain and bewilderment felt by Catholics worldwide is to allow victims of abuse to tell their stories, and to encourage Catholics to ask questions about why it happened, to show kindness and compassion and solidarity to those who have been abused, and to begin to fashion a safer and loving Church that protects and nurtures its children.  Dark secrets have led to this crisis in the Church, and exposing these secrets to the light of day is the only way to move forward. 

The November meeting of the USCCB could inaugurate a new era in the American Church, one characterized by honesty, accountability, generosity, and love.  Yet this will only happen if the USCCB embarks on an ambitious agenda to deal openly with this crisis in a sustained and coordinated manner. We American Catholics and non-Catholics join in community to hope and pray that the USCCB will meet this challenge directly and courageously, and we gladly offer whatever assistance is requested to help understand this crisis and to prevent it from ever happening again. May God’s grace be with you during your November meeting, and may that grace keep our children front and center in your awareness as the USCCB considers practical avenues to make the Church a reflection of God’s love.   

[1] See the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee Statement of September 19, 2018, which may be accessed here: 


Mark Doorley, Ethics

Elizabeth Dowdell, Nursing

John Edwards, Campus Ministry

Massimo Faggioli, Theology & Religious Studies

Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Augustinian Institute

Jim Gallo, Center for Church Management

Kathryn Getek Soltis, Center for Peace & Justice Education

Mark Graham, Theology & Religious Studies

Lowell Gustafson, Political Science

Matthew Manion, Center for Church Management 

Michael Moreland, Law

Sally Scholz, Philosophy

Peter Spitaler, Theology & Religious Studies

Additional Signatories:

Allison Covey, Ethics

Amber Stuver, Physics

Amrit Heer, Ethics

Amy Ellis, Graduate Tax Department

Amy Emerson, Law

Andrea Steck, Nursing

Angela DiBenedetto, Biology

Ann Carpenter, Accountancy and Information Systems

Ann McKinzie, Nursing

Ann Scheve, Nursing

Anthony J. Godzieba, Theology & Religious Studies

Anthony Ziccardi, Fincance/Real Estate

Art Purcaro OSA,  Mission and Ministry

Audra Goodnight, Ethics

Barabar Ott-Nursing

Barbara Wall, Mission and Ministry and Philosophy

Barry Selinsky, Liberal Arts & Sciences

Bernadette Rudolph, Theology & Religious Studies

Berni Stevens, School of Business

Beth Hassel, PBVM, Center for Faith and Reason

Bette Mariani, Nursing

Brett Wilmot, Ethics

Brian McCabe, Campus Ministry

Brianna Remster, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology

Bruce Pollack-Johnson, Mathematics and Statistics

Cameron G. Quevedo, Communication

Carey Walsh, Theology and Religious Studies

Carol Anthony, Center for Peace and Justice Education

Carolina Favazza, Office of Education Abroad

Cathy Toner, School of Business

Cecilia Ready, English

Charles Ashley, Mathematics and Statistics

Charles M. McKeough Assistant Prof.ECE, retired

Charlotte Holmes, Office for Undergraduate Students

Cheryl J. Carleton, Economics

Christie Vuoto, Career Center

Christine Brewer, Nursing

Christopher Kilby, Economics

Colin Redick, VSB

Craig McMahon, O.S.A., Economics

Cristina Soriano, History Department

Dan Griffin, Mission & Ministry

David Burke, Falvey Memorial Library

Daniel Guertin, VSB

David W. Dinehart, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Denise Downey, Accountancy & Information Systems

Denzell Stanislaus, Residence Life

Diane M. Ellis, Nursing

Diane Penneys Edelman, Law

Diego Fernandez-Duque, Psychological and Brain Sciences Department

Donna McFadden, BA, MFA    Theatre Department

Douglas Norton, Mathematics and Statistics

Dveera Segal, Law

Edward Garcia Fierros, Education and Counseling

Edward Hastings, Theology and Religious Studies

Edward Mathis, Economics, Retired

Edward Sloane, Campus Ministry Service and Justice Experiences

Elayne Howard, Marketing

Elizabeth Keech, Nursing

Elizabeth Richetti, Parking & Trans Department

Elizabeth-Jane McGuire, Augustine and Culture Seminar Program

Ellen Bonds English

Eloise Berry, Office of Intercultural Affairs

Erasmus Kersting, Economics

Eugene McCarraher, Humanities

Evan Radcliffe, English

Gabriele Bauer, Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning

Guy Aiken, ACS

Helen Lafferty, Education and Counseling

Heather Polidori, Nursing

Heather Moriarty, Nursing

Ilia Delio, OSF, Theology & Religious Studies

Irene Kan, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Jack Johannes, Political Science

Jackeline Vega, VSB

James J. Mullen, Jr. (Retired from VSB)

James Wetzel, Philosophy

Jay Einspanier, Villanova School of Business

Jean Lutes, English

Jeanne Liedtka, Marketing

Jenn Brophy, Academic Support for Athletics

Jennifer Liberato, Residence Life

Jennifer Palenchar, Chemistry

Jerome Heppelmann, Finance

Jesse Couenhoven, Humanities and Theology

John D. Caputo, Theology and Religious Studies

Jim Glasgow, Management

John Groch - Theology & Religious Studies

John Olson, Biology

Jonathan Jerome, Campus Ministry

Jonathan P. Yates, Theology & Religious Studies

Jose R. Irizarry, Theology & Religious Studies

Joseph Citera, Student Involvement

Joseph D. Calderone, O.S.A., Center for Pastoral Ministry & Education

Joseph Oechsle, Mathematics

Joshua Wise, Theology & Religious Studies

Joyce Minogue, Health Promotion

Juanita Weaver, Communication

Julia Sheetz-Willard, Campus Ministry

Julie Klein, Philosophy

Kail Ellis, OSA Dean Emeritus

Kaley M. Carpenter, Augustine & Culture Seminar Program

Karen Cunningham, Theology and Religious Studies

Karen McKenna, Nursing

Karyn Hollis, English and Global Interdisciplinary Studies

Kate Giancatarino, Campus Ministry

Katherine Lucatorto, Nursing

Kathleen DeMara, Astrophysics

Kathryn Reynolds, Nursing

Kevin DePrinzio, OSA, Theology and Religious Studies

Kevin Hughes, Theology & Religious Studies; Humanities

Krista Malott, Education & Counseling

Levi Brautigan, Office of Education Abroad

Linda Carman Copel, Nursing

Lindsay Higgins McFadden, Marketing

Lisa Sewell, English

Louis J. Sirico, Law

Marcy Bray, Mission and Ministry

Maragaret Lyons, Nursing

Marguerite K. Schlag, Nursing

Maria Coan, Office of the Provost

Mark Shiffman, Humanities

Martin Garcia, Office of Education Abroad

Marvin Lee, Ethics

Marcy Bray, Mission and Ministry

Margaret Lyons, Nursing

Mary Kelly, Economics

Mary Ann Cantrell, Nursing

Mary Grace Salomone, EH&S

Mary Lou Glenn, Office of the Provost

Maryanne Lieb, Nursing

Marylu Hill, The Augustine and Culture Seminar Program

Mathew Verghese, Campus Ministry

Megan Quigley, English Department

Meghan Dietzler, Campus Ministry

Meghan Petsko, Graduate Tax Program

Melissa Caro, Nursing

Melissa O'Connor, Nursing

Michael Campbell, Law

Michael Castrilli, Center for Church Management

Michelle Madden Dempsey, Law

Michelle Sherman, Campus Ministry

Nancy C. Sharts-Hopko, PhD, RN, FAAN, Fitzpatrick College of Nursing

Naomi Washington-Leapheart, Theology & Religious Studies

Narda Quigley, Dept. of Managment and Operations

Olukunle Owolabi, Political Science

Patricia H. Eget, Advancement

Patricia H. Haynor, Nursing

Patricia L. Ryan   Nursing

Patty Abdalla, Nursing

Paul L. Danove, Theology & Religious Studies

Peggy Elder, Ethics Program

Peter Palenchar, Chemistry

QB. Chung-Business School

Qi Wang, Communications

Rita V. Goslin, Office of Financial Assistance

Robert and Margot Giuliano, Chemistry, STOV Parish

Rodger Van Allen, Theology & Religious Studies

Rosemarie Jenkins, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Ruth McDermott-Levy, Nursing

Sarah Faggioli, Augustine and Culture Seminar Program

Sarah-Vaughan Brakman, Philosophy

Shauna MacDonald, Communication and Gender & Women's Studies

Sherry A. Burrell, Nursing

Sinead Hellings, Nursing

Stacy Andes, Office of Health Promotion

Stefanie Knauss, Theology & Religious Studies

Stephen DeAngelis, VSB

Stephen Liedtka, Accountancy and Information Systems

Steve Padovano, School of Business

Susan Markert, Inn at VU

Susan C. Slaninkia, Nursing

Suzanne C. Smeltzer, Nursing

Suzanne Teleha, Center for Faith & Learning

Suzanne Toton, (retired) Theology & Religious Studies

Suzanne Wentzel, Mission and Ministry

Tamara Kear, Nursing

Terence Yee, Education and Counseling

Teresa Nance, Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Thomas Monahan, Accounting

Thomas P. Umile, Chemistry

Thomas W. Smith, Honors

Timothy Brunk, Theology and Religious Studies

Timothy Hanchin, Theology & Religious Studies

Travis M. Foster, English

Trish Burdo, VSB

Trudy Pacella, Mission and Ministry

Valerie Joyce, Theatre and Studio Art

Victoria Forrest, VSB Dean's Office

William O'Neill, Adjunct/Marketing & Business Law Department

William Utter, Management and Operations

Yannik Thiem, Philosophy