Gonzaga University — a police-free zone for sex crimes?
Posted by Arroyoribera on December 23, 2007
The headline for this post almost appeared blatantly absurd until I actually wrote the thought on the screen.
Then it struck me. Gonzaga University has long been a police-free zone for sex crimes and lay at the heart of an environment of hypocrisy and impunity related to sex crimes in Spokane going back decades.
Not just at the heart of hypocrisy and impunity but — as was the case in April 1969 — at the heart of the leadership of Gonzaga.
In April 1969, Spokane Police tipped off Gonzaga University president Rev. John P. Leary to the fact that he would be arrested in relation to charges of sexual abuse of minor boys unless he left Spokane immediately. Thankful for the tip, Leary did obligingly leave town, beginning the long peregrinations so well known to predatory clergy.
Nearly 40 years later it appears Gonzaga University, which only last year began to involve the Spokane Police in alcohol-related legal matters (though ineffectually as these videos show), remains a safe haven for peer-on-peer sex crimes.
In response to GU senior Elizabeth Lockhart’s letter “Punish Lawbreakers” published 12/1/2006 in the Gonzaga Bulletin, Gonzaga’s corporate counsel Michael Casey wrote a same-day response entitled “University policy follows law” which said:
A report, allegation or complaint made only to Gonzaga University is not the same as a report made with local police. The University process and the criminal justice process are two separate courses of action which may be taken together or separately, depending on the reporting party’s comfort level and desired outcome.
Casey was addressing Lockhart’s concerns about an environment at Gonzaga University which she and others feel fails to adequately protect victims of sexual aggression. Lockhart wrote:
In recent months, the effectiveness of our school’s sexual assault policy has been called into question. The policy has been criticized by many for being ambiguous and, worse yet, for protecting those who have committed sexual offenses and hindering the victims who would seek justice. Read it for yourselves. While the ideals of our University are admirable, the words of our policy do not ensure that they will be upheld. Yes, a university should be a safe haven that protects us when we make mistakes. But not when we commit crimes.
Lockhart eloquently argued that Gonzaga’s policy substitutes a proceeding under the criminal laws of the state of Washington with what she calls “the University’s private but ineffectual proceedings”. She goes on to point out that like so many institutions before it, be they the U.S. Air Force Academy or the Spokane Fire Department, the sexual assault policy of Gonzaga University “does not protect the victim, it protects the reputation of her attacker and the safe image of her university”.
And of course the safe image of Gonzaga — especially in a town with a history of notorious serial rape cases — is a multi-million dollar commodity, one in which both the Catholic university and the city of Spokane have a significant interest in protecting.
If nearly 40 years ago, under enormous pressure to act, the Spokane Police Department and Gonzaga finally drove a pedophile priest from the presidency of Gonzaga and out of Spokane, when will the pressure finally be enough to force the SPD and GU leadership to deal head on with the interconnected issues of student alcohol-abuse and sexual misconduct?
What causes one to be less than optimistic is that the course of action chosen by both the Spokane Police Department and Gonzaga in April 1969 was exactly what Lockhart alleged about the sexual assault policy of Gonzaga University today: it did not protect the victims but rather protected the reputation of their attacker and the safe image of the university.
As we know Leary left Gonzaga and Spokane but continued without legal consequence to serve in the priesthood in congregations across the country. What in the end will be the tragic outcome of the current Gonzaga policy which also fosters legal impunity? Gonzaga produces lawyers, teachers, nurses, soldiers, and world-class basketball players. Is the current policy which encourages a “hush-hush” environment for the sake of the boys one which we want to see perpetuated? Is it one in which a Catholic institution of all places needs to be complicit at this late date in history?
And where should one put the blame? On a failure of courage on the part of Gonzaga administrators and legal counsel or on some inherent blind spot in the vision and ethical judgment of male dominated institutions — such as the Catholic church, the police and the military? What about the Spokane Police Department which failed in carrying out justice but instead shepherded Father Leary out of town rather than arrest him?
Clearly, the Church, Gonzaga University, and the Spokane Police Department all share the blame.
Perhaps Gonzaga University can atone for its part in the sheltering of Father Leary and other priests who passed through its doors in their interminable priestly peregrinations. Perhaps — at this late date and in advance of the 40th anniversary of Father Leary’s departure from Spokane with the assistance of the SPD and GU leadership in April 1969 — Gonzaga University can become a zero-tolerance zone for impunity from sex crimes.
This we pray…
in the name of the father, and of the mother, and of the son, and of the daughter, and of those generations yet to come…