A Letter to the President of The University of Scranton: Show Me Your Good Faith and Resolve

Gunster 80s
The University of Scranton Commons in front of Gunster, looking down Linden Street in the 1980’s.  From the McHugh Special Collections, Weinberg Memorial Library, The University of Scranton.  http://digitalservices.scranton.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p9000coll7/id/48/rec/1

In a move that took me by surprise back in August, the incoming President of The University of Scranton, Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., directed that the names of bishops of the Diocese of Scranton involved in the Sexual Abuse Crisis would be removed from campus buildings and honorary degrees awarded to those individuals rescinded.  This action was taken after the release of the Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report detailing sexual crimes by clergy in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic Dioceses.

On October 11, 2018, Father Pilarz released an announcement on the establishment of the Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation, and Hope.   In his message, he and the Board of Trustees “commit endowed funds to support efforts to strive together with the people of the Diocese and Catholics everywhere to address the difficult but necessary questions that arise from the grand jury report.”  He charged the Task Force to “help us harness the full range of resources that The University of Scranton, as a Catholic and Jesuit university can offer the church in this painful but pivotal moment. Their work will imagine and plan how we can respond, in ways both simple and sophisticated, to the needs of God’s people.”

I applaud any action taken to uncover the truth and to expose the complicity of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in protecting predator priests who have been committing sexual crimes against children and vulnerable adults for decades. But,  I am suspicious of any action taken by a Catholic organization to address this issue.  The wording of the announcement is benign on its surface.  After reading it a few times, I was struck by what it does not address.   I do not see a clear identification of who is to be “healed, reconciled and granted hope.” He speaks about the church and  University community but nowhere in the announcement is a recognition of survivors.  The words  “victim” and “survivor” are conspicuously absent from the text. Is it the President’s intent to exclude the victims of this scandal?

Earlier this week I wrote to the Father Pilarz to express my concerns and offered a few recommendations. I have done this in good faith with the hope that my Alma Mater is true to it’s Jesuit Tradition.

Spirituality is at the core of our mission as a Catholic, Jesuit institution of higher learning. The chief characteristics embedded in the Ignatian vision include: the concept of the Magis, or a restless pursuit of excellence grounded in gratitude; Cura Personalis, individual attention to students and respect for the uniqueness of each member of the University community; seeking God in all things; liberal education; service of faith and the promotion of justice; and contemplation in action.

I have given the U.S. Postal Service enough time to deliver my letter to the University of Scranton.  I now share the text of that missive with you.

Dear Father Pilarz,
I am writing to you as both a survivor of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton and a member of the University of Scranton Community.  I graduated from the University in 1982 with a B.A. in History.
In response to the findings of the Attorney General’s Grand Jury Report, you took action to rename University buildings and rescind honorary degrees from the bishops who had a hand in the cover-up of sexual crimes committed against children and vulnerable adults. I applauded your initial steps in addressing this crisis.  Now I want you to make an impact beyond the campus of the University.
Your announcement of the establishment of Task Force on Healing, Reconciliation, and Hope in October may be a step in the right direction.  However, I have concerns that I hope you will take to heart.
Your task force needs to include survivors.  Survivors and the families of victims who are no longer with us need a voice at your table.  The Task Force will need to do more than politely listen to the stories and understand the impact on everyone involved. When we speak, it will be emotional perhaps even loud. Sorrow, anger, shame, and embarrassment will break voices and bring tears to eyes.   It may be messy and difficult to bear.  You will need to listen to these stories to be credible in your labors.  Without that input, you cannot possibly understand the depth of the damage to innocence, safety, security, personal relationships, trust, and faith inflicted on children because of these sexual batteries. Simply put, you should not have this discussion without us.
I would like to see the University endow studies that address key issues in this crisis.  I have tried to understand why the abuse happened and why the hierarchy of the Catholic Church covered it up. I have struggled, personally, with the effects of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my eighth-grade religion teacher, a diocesan priest. I stayed silent for more than 33 years. In the eleven years since my initial report to the Diocese of Scranton and the ten years since I publicly revealed the abuse, I have spent hundreds of hours reflecting on areas that deserve investigation and scholarly study.  Here are some recommendations:
  • A study of the factors that lead predators to select particular victims. My discussions with other survivors led me to theories on why we became targets. Most victims were from devout families who revered priests as God’s representative on earth.  Obedience, without question, of the orders given by priests and other religious was drilled into our heads from a young age. Predators use this to their advantage. They seek out children in dysfunctional families (domestic violence, addiction issues, alcoholism) or tragic circumstances (death of a parent or sibling, catastrophic illness or injury in the family). I have a friend whose grooming began when he was 12 years old at his father’s wake.   A study in this area will allow for the identification of at-risk children and inform teachers, adult leaders and family members of potential vulnerability harm.
  • A study on the psychopathology of pedophilia and why the Catholic Church has such a long, tragic history of this mental disorder within the ranks of its clergy. A review of the screening processing for seminaries, for both staff and students, may reveal how potential predators make it through the process undetected.
  • A study on the long-term impacts of the sexual batteries on survivors and their families to include the actions of the Church to marginalize and isolate victims and their families. Denials, strong-arm tactics and attacks on survivors to silence or blame them for the abuse further compounds the damaged already experienced.
In the wake of the abuse I suffered in 1974, I found a place to start over when I arrived at the University of Scranton over Labor Day weekend in 1978.  I began to work out who I was and push out of my very narrow comfort zone.  I enjoyed my classes, I made friends, and I was involved in campus life. I was a student manager for Campus Bowl, and I was selected to be in the Chorus during for Fall Review in 1980 and 1981. I was a student Co-Director for Orientation ’81 working with Professor Cannon and the staff of the Counseling Center out of an office on the third floor of St. Thomas Hall.  I have very good memories of my time at the “U.”  During my Junior year, the priest who raped me when I was 13 years old came into the restaurant in Scranton where I worked as a waiter.  That chance meeting shook me so badly that I stopped going to class and missed some of my campus commitments. I was considering suicide.  A Jesuit, Edward Gannon S.J., summoned me to his office in Memorial Library to sort out what was happening to me. I did not go willingly.  In what turned into a marathon “confession” I told him the story of my abuse.  I spared him no detail.  On that cold winter night, he declared me blameless and offered the only sincere apology I have ever received for the abuse I suffered as a child. His intervention saved my life that night.  Because the conversation was within the context of a confession, I held him to his vow of silence on the matter. In hindsight, I wish I had let him take action.
I am not a social justice warrior.  I do not welcome or seek attention’s center.   I know I am a small voice on the coast, screaming at the vastness of the ocean.  There is a point where if you don’t stand up for something, you stand for nothing.  I came forward out of guilt for those that came after me, shame for keeping my secret, anger for the dismissal of accusations deemed credible by the chancery.  I  am horrified that Catholics seem willing to sacrifice children and reward a hierarchy that is misguidedly abusing their authority to maintain the illusion that their house of worship, their sacraments, and their faith are in order.
I want to believe that the University of Scranton is still a place where people don’t shrink from controversial or uncomfortable topics.  I want to know it is a place where people can stand up and do the right thing even when it is unpopular or challenges the local bishop.  I need to know that it is still the place where faculty and staff care about their students and the greater university community. I want to believe in the University that gave me, and generations of students,  Father Gannon.  I know that the Task Force cannot solve all of the issues in this great crisis. I think that it may be able to take a step in the direction of finding answers and making meaningful recommendations.
As for me, I realize that sometimes justice offered is not always the justice for which we had hoped.  I, as a survivor, will seek the wisdom to know when that justice is enough.
                                                                        Very respectfully,
                                                                       Michael B. Baumann
Copy to:
Patricia Tetreault
Christian Krokus

Any hope I may have that the Task Force will do more than to look inward to “heal” the church is very guarded.  I still consider myself a member of the University of Scranton Community even though I know I am no longer welcome in the Catholic Church.  The findings and recommendations of the Task Force will reveal the true nature and depth of the University’s good faith and resolve.

Edward Gannon, SJ (one of the good guys)

I attended the University of Scranton for my undergraduate studies. This was probably an odd choice given my circumstance as it is a Catholic, Jesuit University. I chose it for a few reasons, some of which were more personal than academic. The school was located about an hour’s drive from my family home in the Poconos. If it were necessary, I would be able to get home quickly if the need arose. I had promised myself that I would not be too far away if my younger sisters or brother needed back-up in a house that was sometimes unpredictable and volatile.The school also had (and still has) a tremendous academic reputation. I was interested in the pre-law track, and I was accepted based on a solid B+ high school average.

I was instantly comfortable on the campus. I was happy to be back in an urban environment and enjoyed my ability to get anywhere I needed to go either by walking or using public transportation. If I needed to get home, I could catch a Trailways bus from downtown and be home in a couple of hours. During my freshman year, I did have to dodge cars barreling down Linden Street between St. Thomas Hall and the Gunster Memorial Student Center. For those familiar with the current campus of the U, my class was the last to enter “The U” before the “Z” bricks were laid on Linden Street and traffic diverted onto Mulberry.

It was during my freshman year that I met a Jesuit named Edward Gannon. He was a little annoying at first. He would walk into the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch and invite himself to sit at any table that piqued his curiosity. Given my aversion to those wearing Roman collars, I did not welcome the intrusions. He was notorious for asking some deep philosophical question at the breakfast table. Since I was barely able to cope with runny eggs, I let my table mates deal with the crazy Jesuit. The discussions sometimes seemed to come out of left field. He would ask questions about classes, relationships, religion, the world and the universe. I was very much on my guard around him initially.

Father Gannon was a campus legend. He was much bigger than his diminutive frame, and he had a commanding, reassuring presence where ever he went. Outside or in his office, he  usually had a cloud around him from the ever-present cigarette in his hand. This was the only vice he allowed himself. When not in his roman collar he was usually in a turtleneck and a cardigan. He was like a weird hybrid of Albert Einstein and Mr. Rogers. To say that he was intelligent would be a gross understatement. Father Gannon was granted the title of University Professor which meant he could teach in any department in the University. His classes were impossible to schedule because upperclassmen would take every available space. Given what I just said, you should not assume that class with Gannon was an easy A. You had to work to meet his incredibly high standards. He was not willing to accept anything less than what he thought you were capable of giving. He was not just teaching us philosophy or theology, he was teaching us to think, to question, to challenge. If we learned philosophy or theology along the way, so much the better. After the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the streets at the end of my sophomore year, many of us were convinced that Yoda was channeling Gannon.

Fr Gannon and I, 1981
Fr Gannon and I, 1981

He was also the genius behind the Fall Review, an annual talent show that packed the Gunster Auditorium every October. Despite the fact that I can not sing and I have two left feet, he saw fit to put me in the chorus for the shows in 1980 and 1981, I’m sure it was penance for something I had done wrong. He also enlisted me to be one of his student managers for Campus Bowl, a scholastic competition that filled the cafeteria every week during the spring semester.  I have no idea what this man saw in me.  He was always giving me a chance to work on something, usually something out of my comfort zone.

He took an interest in me. It became apparent that he knew much more about me than I had revealed. I guess you could say that he saw right through me. Against everything that experience had taught me to that point, I trusted this man. He picked up pretty quickly that I was the son of an alcoholic. He was himself a friend of Bill. We had many long conversations about alcoholism and my father in his office on the first floor of the library. My father stopped drinking and completed a residential program to get him on his way to sobriety during my freshman year at Scranton. I was not supportive of my father’s sobriety at first. I questioned his motives and I had doubts as to my father’s sincerity and commitment.  You may have deduced that I have trust issues that are deeply seeded. I suspected that there were ulterior motives at work here and I was not going to set myself up for another disappointment. Father Gannon spent a lot of time helping me to get to a point where I could have a relationship with my own father.

Money was always an issue for me in college. I had always been pretty self-sufficient, so I was always looking for a way to make a few bucks to support my Asteroids habit in the basement of Gunster. I had a work-study job in Dean Parente’s office and later in the Counseling Center on the top floor of St. Thomas Hall working for Professor Cannon. I ran the soda machine concession in the basement of Montgomery House (we knew it by its nickname “The Grad House”). I proctored tests (GMAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc…) on weekends when they were given at the “U.” Tuition and room and board were supplemented by waiting tables and tending bar at an establishment called “The Upper Crust” downtown. I was usually there 4-5 nights a week.

One night a group of priests came into the Upper Crust for dinner. Among them was Father Gibson. Needless to say, I was immediately on edge. I did not have their table. Because business was kind of slow that night, I convinced my boss to let me leave early. While he was usually pretty unreasonable, I think he saw how agitated I was and decided it was better to just let me go. As I was gathering up my coat and heading for the door, I ran into Gibson. He started some small talk, I put my shoulder down and blew through him on the way to the door.  That was the last time I saw Father Gibson in person.

Scranton was my safe zone. It was the first place that I ever felt comfortable in my own skin. I had friends, was developing confidence and letting my guard down a little bit. The sight of Gibson in “my world” freaked me out.  I went back to the Grad House and tripped off the line. I blew off classes for a few days and didn’t go to work. I was thinking about emptying my bank account and heading to the bus station and just disappearing. I contemplated ending it all. At that point, I did not think that I had options.

One of the things I blew off during this descent into depression was Campus Bowl. BIG MISTAKE! Father Gannon summoned me to his office in the library.  When I did not show up, he sent someone for me. He sent a member of the school’s club hockey team with orders to drag me to the library if necessary.   In his typical, no-nonsense style he demanded to know what was going on. Despite my protestations that nothing was wrong, he was determined to get to the bottom of the crisis. He was not going to tolerate my “thousand mile stare” for another moment.  I decided to tell him everything about Gibson, on the condition it was within the context of confession.  He listened for about 2 hours in the cluttered office. When I had said everything I was willing to say, we both sat in silence for a while. He looked at me and apologized. This time he did not offer me absolution, he declared me blameless for what had happened.  The strain was evident in his eyes. To this day he has been the only priest to offer me an apology for what happened. Given the state I was in and the helplessness I was feeling, I knew I was not acting rationally. Those hours spent with Father Gannon kept me in school and probably saved my life. For that, and many other things, I will be eternally grateful to him.

Father Gannon was my last confessor. He asked me several times after my last confession for permission to do something on my behalf. I politely refused. Given that he was a man of his word, I am certain he carried my secret to the end.

When I attended my 25th class reunion in 2007, I walked up to Gannon Hall, as if to pay my respects to the man who talked me off the ledge.  I wonder if the students living in that building now have any idea of the lasting impact that man had on generations of students?