No Comment: Fordham’s Continued History of Silence on Sex Abuse Claims

On Jan. 15, 2019, Rev. John J. Cecero, S.J., provincial of the USA Northeast Jesuit Province, released the names of 50 Jesuits, including eight former Jesuits, accused of sexual abuse. At the time of the list’s publication, 35 of the 50 Jesuits named were deceased. Rev. Cecero, in a letter accompanying the list, wrote the following:

“At the heart of this crisis is the painful, sinful and illegal harm done to children by those whom they should have been able to trust. We did not know any best practices to handle these violations many decades ago and regrettably made mistakes along the way. What winds up being a very shameful history for the Church at large was made clear by investigative reporting in Boston in 2002.”

In response to the Northeast Province list, Fordham President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and Board of Trustees Chair Mr. Robert D. Daleo addressed an email on Jan. 15 to all members of the University community. The email, in its conclusion, stated:

“We are heartsick that the shadow of the crisis within the larger Catholic community has been cast upon our University, and deeply troubled by the very real possibility that there are still survivors whose accounts of abuse we have not yet heard.  Know, however, that Fordham will take all actions necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of its students – past and present – faculty, and staff, and of course to be responsive to the concerns of parents, alumni and other members of our community.”

The email also included the names of nine Jesuits connected to the University or Fordham Prep, some of whom are not included on the Northeast Province’s list, who had credible accusations of sexual abuse against them. Fr. McShane and Mr. Daleo did not suggest that the University was aware of any credibly accused priests living in Murray-Weigel after the time of their accusations.

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In late Apr. 2018, I had a single, on-campus conversation with an administrator and another individual not affiliated with the University. The administrator admitted that they were aware of priests accused of child sexual abuse living at Murray-Weigel Hall. I inquired further, directly asking whether these accused priests were currently residing at Murray-Weigel. Either the administrator or the other individual answered in the affirmative.

I brought this information to the paper on Feb. 23 of this year. In response to this claim, the paper contacted the administrator, who through an intermediary declined to comment, stated they were too busy to meet for the next two weeks and instructed to the paper to contact Mr. Bob Howe, Assistant Vice President for Communications and Special Adviser to the President. Mr. Howe then released the following statement, printed below in its entirety. Part of this statement is, verbatim, what Mr. Howe provided to The Fordham Ram for a Jan. 30 article on the suspension of the student volunteer program at Murray-Weigel.

“We are heartsick that the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has affected members of the Fordham community. To reiterate our previous communication about this deeply troubling matter, at Fordham’s insistence, the Northeast Province recently removed all men with known credible accusations against them from Murray-Weigel Hall, and has since assured us they will not assign restricted Jesuits to the residence, even on a temporary basis.

As we said in our January 15 statement, the University has never had control over Murray-Weigel Hall, nor has the University ever had the authority to evict any of the tenants—that control and authority has always rested solely with the Province, which owns the facility. Thus, we are not in a position to comment on these specific allegations.

Nonetheless, with the opportunity to review these matters in hindsight, with the information now available to us, the University should have sought to handle matters related to the Province’s assignments differently. We are committed to learning from the past and to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students. Additional efforts to protect our students were detailed in the letter Father McShane and Board Chair, Robert Daleo, sent to the Fordham family in January, and we will keep the University community appraised of the independent Special Committee’s work as appropriate.”

The University’s refusal to address my claim is in keeping with Fordham’s longstanding tradition of silence on matters of Jesuit sexual abuse, despite the University’s promise to be “responsive to the concerns of parents, alumni and other members of our community.”

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A Nov. 19, 2008 article in the paper entitled, “Fordham’s Silent Treatment,” details allegations of sexual abuse against Rev. Eugene J. O’Brien, S.J., president of Fordham Prep from 1975 through 1979, and Rev. Roy A. Drake, S.J., a science teacher assigned to Fordham Prep from 1965 to 1971.

According to the paper article, which draws on Oct. 2008 reporting by The New York Times, an anonymous 58-year-old alleged victim claims he was molested by Fr. O’Brien “on numerous occasions” between 1964 and 1966. The alleged victim further claims that Fr. Drake attempted to molest him in the Fordham University Seismic Observatory.

A second anonymous alleged victim told the paper that Fr. Drake raped and sodomized him prior to a 1968 ski trip to Hunter Mountain. The alleged victim, at the time of the attack, was 13-years-old.

According to the paper, the case against Fr. O’Brien was settled for $25,000 in 1997. Fr. Drake resided at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Northeast Province Jesuit infirmary, until his death in 2008, according to The Ram. However, in the Oct. 2008 Times article, Rev. Thomas R. Slon, S.J., then executive assistant to the New York Jesuits superior, “would not confirm that Father Drake had died.”

Further, Fr. Drake continued to live at Murray-Weigel for, according to the source, three years after he informed the University of Fr. Drake’s residence.

Fr. McShane, former Dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, responded to the alleged victim via a letter, directing him to his lawyer and hoping “for an amicable resolution of this matter.” Bob Howe, University director of communications, would not comment. The Northeast Province and the Archdiocese of New York refused to comment as well.

According to a Nov. 28, 2018 article in The Ram, former high school student Richard Windmann accused Rev. Cornelius Carr, S.J., who taught at Jesuit High School in New Orleans in the 1970s, of molestation. From the article:

“I’ve been trying to get this out for like 10 years and nobody believed me,” said Windmann. “I went to law enforcement, and no one believed me, and they sat on it and did nothing.”

In a statement to The Ram, Mr. Howe indirectly claimed that Fordham was unaware of such claims against Fr. Carr, who died at Murray-Weigel, according to The New Orleans Advocate.

Since the January release by the Northeast Province of Jesuits accused of sexual abuse, The Ram has confirmed that, in addition to Fr. Carr and Fr. Drake, the following six priests also resided at Murray-Weigel:

Rev. William J. Scanlon, S.J., who admitted to abuse of minors between 1985 and 1994 and who lived at Murray-Weigel from at least 2008 to 2019, serving as its chaplain.

Rev. James C. Gould, S.J., who admitted to abuse of a minor, was impeded in 2012 and in 2015 served as the Northeast Province’s assistant to the socius for data management.

Rev. Thomas F. Denny, S.J., who was impeded from his priestly ministries in 2002 when abuse of minors claims against him were deemed “credible after investigation”; he held five separate assignments between 1964 and 1979.

Rev. John L. Farrand, S.J., who admitted to abuse of minors and died in 2003; The Ram confirmed his residence at Murray-Weigel through a Northeast Province newsletter

Rev. John J. Gallen, S.J., who was impeded in 2001 when abuse of minors claims against him were deemed “credible after investigation; The Ram confirmed his death at Murray-Weigel in 2011 through “a Minnesota law firm.”

Rev. John M. Doolan, S.J., who admitted to abuse of minors, was impeded in 2006 and who died at Murray-Weigel in 2008.

According to the annual Jesuit catalog, Fr. Scanlon, Fr. Gould and Fr. Denny all lived at Murray-Weigel in 2018. The Ram obtained the catalog, which is “published and mailed to each Jesuit yearly and contain(s) lists of Jesuits divided geographically by province, house, residence or college” through the Walsh Library. From a Mar. 13, 2019 article in The Ram:

“Was the university as rigorous as it should have been in tracking who was housed in Murray-Weigel, and of their histories? Unfortunately, we were not, and we are horrified that Jesuits against whom there are credible allegations of abuse were in such close proximity to our students,’ said Howe in the Feb. 12 statement.”

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The private admission of a senior administrator, the 2008 reporting by the paper on Fordham-related Jesuit sex abuse, and the recent string of clergy sex abuse articles published by The Ram demonstrate a pattern of negligence and inaction on the part of Fordham University, the Northeast Province and Murray-Weigel Hall.

These instances of child predators living at Murray-Weigel span over a decade, and yet the University maintains its claims of prolonged ignorance. But this is not enough, as “(f)eigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin” (CCC 1859).

The University claims that it was not privy to “a regular flow of information” regarding who resided at the Jesuit healthcare facility, despite every Jesuit receiving in the mail for decades a catalog of who lived there. As reported by The Ram, these catalogs were available to all members of the Fordham community through O’Hare Special Collections in the Walsh Library — until recently.

Moreover, the University refused to comment directly on the admission of the senior administrator, while the Province, citing copyright law, prohibited unrestricted public access to the directory.

The University has admitted that, looking back, it “should have sought to handle matters related to the Province’s assignments differently,” but Fordham has not defined how these matters ought to have been addressed. Further, the aforementioned statement is decidedly different in tone than the sentiments expressed by Rev. McShane and Mr. Daleo in the Jan. 15 University-wide email:

“Our insistence that alleged offenders be removed from Murray-Weigel is just one aspect of Fordham University’s commitment to protecting our students from potential harm.”

I see only two legitimate possibilities in this story: that Fordham knew that predator priests were living on-campus and decided to keep mum, or that Fordham turned a blind eye to the tenants at Murray-Weigel. Both possibilities demand further transparency and a genuine public apology from the University, the Province and Murray-Weigel.

Fordham University’s failure to take action against offending priests residing at Murray-Weigel is a problem, but it is also a symptom — a symptom of the cover-ups and lies perpetuated by the Catholic Church in regards to cases of clergy sex abuse.

The laity must speak out, challenge and consistently urge further action by members of the Church hierarchy, and as well as by leaders in Catholic higher education. It is not enough to wait passively for sweeping reforms. In regards to Fordham, Mr. Howe stated the University’s intention to “keep the University community informed of the independent Special Committee’s work as appropriate.” The essential phrase in that statement is “as appropriate.” Demand more.

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I would like to provide a brief note on the anonymous authorship of this piece. I have not chosen to remain anonymous because I doubt the veracity of my claims. What I have written is true, and my claim regarding the senior administrator is most certainly supported by great deal of impressive journalism. I remain anonymous because anyone who knows I am telling the truth would likely do whatever possible to stop it.

I thank the many Fordham student journalists — particularly Erica Scalise, Theresa Schliep, Helen Stevenson, Eliot Schiaparelli, Aislinn Keely, Peter Mullin and Bill Donahue — who have exhibited great dedication and passion in their writing on matters of Jesuit sexual abuse. Most importantly, I especially thank the survivors of clergy sex abuse whose bravery and commitment to the truth allow these stories to be told.


In response to this article, Fordham University has released the following statement. It is included here in its entirety:

University Statement | April 5, 2019
To the paper

The safety and well-being of our students is the University’s top priority and we deeply regret that any of our students could have been exposed to restricted Jesuits residing at Murray-Weigel Hall.  While we are profoundly saddened that our due diligence concerning Jesuits residing at Murray-Weigel Hall may have been imperfect, there was never an attempt to conceal or deceive, as this article suggests, and we take allegations of sexual misconduct extremely seriously.

Over the past several months, Fordham and its Board of Trustees have affirmed their commitment to transparency and to fostering a safe environment on and around our campus. In addition to the release of names of Jesuits against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse and who, at one time, were associated with the University, we established an independent, lay Special Committee that is working diligently with the assistance of outside legal counsel to assist the University in the reform of the University’s policies and procedures around these matters, and to investigate and address claims of abuse.  The University has also received unequivocal assurances from the USA Northeast Jesuit Province that all men with credible allegations of abuse against a minor were removed from Murray-Weigel Hall, and that no restricted Jesuits will be assigned to reside there in the future, even on a temporary basis. 

We wish we had taken these measures sooner and are committed to learning from the past. The University will continue to take all actions necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our community and deeply apologize for the pain this profoundly troubling situation has inflicted on survivors of abuse and our community as a whole. We encourage the anonymous author of this article to contact the Special Committee, through its counsel David Kelley at 212-698-3583 or david.kelley@dechert.com, so we can better understand what he or she knows and address it appropriately.

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