Officials at the University of Scranton and King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania have announced that buildings once honouring now-disgraced bishops will be renamed and that the bishops’ honorary degrees will be revoked.
The move is part of the continuing fallout in the state and across the country from last week’s massive report on clergy sex abuse. Two other Pennsylvania schools are also considering renaming campus sites dedicated to bishops accused of systemically concealing decades of abuse.
High schools are beginning to re-examine once-hallowed Catholic Church figures, too. In the Pittsburgh area, a school bearing the name of Cardinal Donald Wuerl is being renamed after the report accused him of reassigning priests who allegedly abused children. It was a decision made at the request of Wuerl himself.
The University of Scranton was the first in Pennsylvania to react, deciding to remove the names of three bishops from buildings. University President Scott Pilarz wrote in a letter to faculty and students at the Jesuit school that the decision was made as a way of showing “sympathy for and solidarity with” victims of sexual abuse in Scranton.
That means new building signage. Plaques will be taken down. Maps will be reprinted. And honorary degrees will be revoked from the three Scranton bishops — Jerome Hannan, James Timlin and J. Carroll McCormick — who are accused of assisting in the cover-up. More than 1,000 minors were abused at the hands of some 300 priests across the state, according to the report.
The students and faculty milling about the sleepy campus in the Pocono Mountains on a recent visit seemed to all share the same view: It was the right choice for the school taking an early stance on the Pennsylvania report that has reverberated around the world.
“I don’t think it’s being disrespectful to the church,” said Adam Pratt, an assistant history professor at the University of Scranton. Renaming the buildings is “part of a healing process and coming to a reckoning that I think is an important thing that we need to do as a community,” he said.
Jeff Welsh, also a historian at the University of Scranton, added: “We’re going to take away that recognition and recognize people instead who really have made a positive step forward for the Catholic Church. I think that’s great,” Welsh said. “I’m impressed the university took such a proactive stance.”
Laura Freedman, who will be a senior this year at the University of Scranton, said she was relieved to hear that the names of the accused bishops will be leaving campus.
Since the report was publicly released last week, professors have been racing to update the upcoming semester’s coursework and arrange eleventh-hour meetings on how to teach the ugly findings of the nearly 900-page document that has battered the Catholic Church far beyond Pennsylvania.
For the theology faculty, Chris Haw says that with three notable bishops being symbolically expelled from campus, the report has acquired new urgency for his students.
“In cases like this, some people want to become very defensive and maybe sort of trenchantly defending the church, when so many other people are saying, this is not the time for you to be defensive,” Haw said.