Luke Reese, married priest, convicted of beating his wife

Luke Reese, the first married Catholic priest in the archdiocese of Indianapolis, was found guilty Friday of one felony and two misdemeanor charges connected to allegations he beat his wife in a jealous rage.

The jury in the Marion County Superior Court found Reese guilty of one count of criminal confinement with bodily injury, one count of domestic battery, and one count of battery resulting in bodily injury, according to public court records. The jury found him not guilty on charges of kidnapping where a vehicle is used and criminal confinement where a vehicle is used.

Jenny Faber, the media representative for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas, where Reese’s bishop presides, did not respond to requests for comment Saturday night; nor did Greg Otolski, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

We broke this story in February, describing the Sept. 24 incident in which Reese allegedly beat his wife inside his church, and then sexually assaulted her over the course of an 18-hour ordeal.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Reese’s superiors at Holy Rosary knew before the assault occurred that he reportedly provided alcohol to minors, got intoxicated with minors, and shared white supremacist material with young people. 

Reese was a married Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church and was ordained a Catholic priest in 2016 through the Personal Ordinariate, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Reese and his wife have been married for 25 years and have seven children.


Reese was convicted on June 29, the same day his parish, Holy Rosary in Indianapolis, celebrated a Mass to commemorate his ordination anniversary.

Here, Canonist Peter Vere explains why a desecration of the altar such as the one alleged in the affidavit would require a reconsecration of the church.

 

Here, we detail the larger implications of the Reese scandal for the Ordinariate.

Reese will be sentenced in court on July 23.We will continue to follow this story as information becomes available.

 CORRECTION July 2, 7:00 PM Eastern: We erroneously stated that Reese was convicted of three felonies. In fact, domestic battery and battery with bodily injury are misdemeanor charges. Criminal confinement is a felony.

Why the Fr. Luke Reese scandal is everybody’s business

This week, Fr. Luke Reese of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis will stand trial for allegedly kidnapping, beating, and sexually assaulting his wife over the course of eighteen hours. Some of the alleged assault occurred in front of the altar of the church.

Why did we break this story, knowing that the couple’s children would read it? And why is it the business of some freelancer in New Hampshire who doesn’t even go to that church? What good can come of publicizing yet another scandal?

When Fr. Reese was arrested, the Holy Rosary pastor, who allegedly saw Mrs. Reese’s battered face, only informed his parishioners that Reese would be going on leave.  The pastor said in the bulletin:

 If you do ask [about what happened], I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.” Additionally, do not make Father Reese and his family the subject of speculation or gossip. This is a sin. Please do remember to pray for him and his family. I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave.

But the Fr. Reese story is everybody’s business. Here’s why:

If a Catholic priest is accused of brutalizing his wife inside a church, it’s news. It just is. If someone who works in child protective services is accused of abusing children, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If someone who prepares food to the public is accused of serving poison, it’s news, and the community has a right to know. If a priest whose job it is to act in persona Christi is accused of betraying his family in such a scandalous and public fashion, it’s news, and the community has a right to know.

But there’s more to these allegations than a compelling story.

Questions the parishioners of Holy Rosary Parish have a right to ask:

Is this the first time Fr. Reese has been accused of physically abusing his wife while he was parochial vicar at Holy Rosary? If not, who was aware of the allegations regarding his behavior? If there were other allegations, why did no one call the police, and why was Fr. Reese allowed to continue as priest?

The affidavit that describes the alleged brutalization of Mrs. Reese doesn’t describe a brief, intemperate lashing out in a moment of distress, but a many-hours-long ordeal wherein he allegedly drove her to various places, allegedly assaulted her in different ways, and even allegedly forced her bodily into his own church in front of the altar where he says Mass, allegedly continuing to assault her there.

In light of these accusations, we must ask what kind of advice Fr. Reese had been giving in confession? What would he say to a penitent who is beating his wife? What would he say to an abused wife? Was he involved in marriage preparation, and was he tasked with teaching young Catholics about the Church’s approach to married life? According to a statement by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2016, Reese’s duties included “offer[ing] pastoral counseling to people experiencing family difficulties.” Are those he counseled aware of the allegations made against him?

We ask again: Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated, since the crimes alleged would clearly constitute desecration? The congregation has a right to know if their church and altar have been desecrated, just as they’d have a right to know what happened if someone stole the tabernacle, broke a window, or embezzled funds from the soup kitchen. It is their church.

Questions about the Church’s legal and financial responsibility:

Fr. Reese is a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is a relatively new and growing institution established in 2012 to enable groups of Anglicans to join the Catholic Church “while preserving elements of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.”

As more Anglican priests join the Ordinariate, often bringing their wives and children into the Church with them, the laity may reasonably wonder what the Church’s legal and financial responsibility is to these priests and their families.

Will the Ordinariate, which has authority over Fr. Reese, pay his legal fees? When Reese was ordained, the archdiocese of Indiana said that “leaders in the ordinariate and the archdiocese have worked to make sure that he’ll be able to financially support his family through what he’ll earn through his priestly ministry.” If the couple divorces, as the Reeses plan to do, will the Ordinariate or the Archdiocese of Indianapolis be legally responsible for Mrs. Reese’s alimony? If Reese is removed from ministry, will the Church help to support the Reese’s seven children? If he is convicted, is the Church legally responsible for what their priests do, especially if they are done inside the church building?

Questions about how Ordinariate priests are formed and vetted:

The Ordinariate can ordain its own laymen as priests, but it primarily receives former Anglican priests and then forms and ordains them as Catholic priests. This was the case with Fr. Reese.

What kind of formation do these formerly Anglican priests receive before they are ordained in the Ordinariate? Is their formation as extensive and comprehensive as seminarians not in the Ordinariate?

The Catholic Church makes an effort to filter out seminarians who are psychologically or temperamentally unfit for ordination. If an Anglican priest wants to join the Ordinariate, does the Catholic Church do its own vetting process, or does it rely on the vetting the Anglican Church has already done? Are priests sometimes hurried through the process, either as a courtesy to the Anglican Church, or because there is such a dire need for vocations in the Catholic Church?

What precedent will Bishop Lopes set?

After Fr. Reese’s legal case is complete, we will be watching very closely to see how Bishop Lopes and other ecclesial authorities will respond.  Because the Ordinariate is so new, whatever Bishop Lopes does will set a precedent. There is no reason to doubt his integrity as he faces the monumental challenge of developing an entirely new canonical structure; but by definition, he is making it up as he goes along. The Fr. Reese case will put severe pressure on a system that isn’t yet fully formed.

The Anglican Church is already understandably sensitive about the Ordinariate, and there is also some resistance to it from some corners of the Catholic Church. It’s already a difficult balance to proceed “as an instrument of Catholic unity.” No one hoped that the Ordinariate would  debut with an ugly scandal; and yet this is the challenge Bishop Lopes faces.

And so the bishop has a choice. He can, in the name of unity and charity, sweep this story under the rug, so as not to tarnish the reputation of the Ordinariate and further complicate relations between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

Or, he can take this scandal as an opportunity to show the world that the Catholic Church is done sweeping scandal under the rug.

In a statement in February of 2018, the Ordinariate said:

Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation. The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.

It breaks my heart to say so, but in the year 2018, we do not have the luxury of assuming the Catholic Church will do the right thing. Wave upon wave of scandal still continue to break.

If Luke Reese is convicted, we hope and pray that Bishop Lopes will respond with a clear message: No more hiding abuse in the name of avoiding bad press. No more cover for predators in the name of Christ. Never again
 ****
Mugshot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox59 News

Lawsuit alleges cover-up of “scandalous acts” at Ave Maria

By DAMIEN FISHER

NAPLES, FLORIDA —A well-regarded former professor at Ave Maria University claims he was fired for reporting a colleague’s “scandalous” acts to school authorities.

Michael Raiger filed a lawsuit Monday in the Collier County Circuit Court alleging, among other things, that the university and President James Towey violated his contract because he reported the actions of Professor Travis Curtright to school officials, including Towey and the school’s legal counsel. Raiger says school officials directed him to cover up the matter. Curtright is currently chair of the humanities and liberal studies at the university.

Raiger’s attorney, Herbert Zischkau, declined to comment when reached on Wednesday. Towey and Curtright have not yet returned messages.

According to the lawsuit, Raiger was first hired as a full-time teacher in 2009, serving as an assistant literature professor. He consistently received positive job performance reviews, and his initial rolling three-year contract was renewed in 2012. But soon after the start of the 2012 school year, Raiger fell afoul of the Ave Maria administration.

“[Raiger’s] conscientious services as an AMU Faculty Member included the reporting of seriously disruptive, scandalous, and disreputable behavior (the ‘Curtright acts’) by another faculty member, Travis Curtright, that was brought to [Raiger’s] attention on or about October 12, 2012,” the lawsuit states.

Raiger reports he went through the proper chain of command to report the “Curtright acts,” first speaking to Dean Michael Dauphinais, then going directly to Towey and to more than one of his representatives. The lawsuit contends that the “Curtright acts” were of such a “scandalous nature” that Raiger wanted to make sure Towey and others knew of them in order to protect the school.

“Given the seriousness of the legal repercussions to his employer, AMU, that could result if remedial action was deferred, [Raiger] also reported the Curtright acts to the appropriate legal officer of AMU, University Counsel, William Kirk, Esq,” the lawsuit states.

The exact nature of the “Curtright acts” are not yet public, but are expected to become part of the discovery process, and will then be public record as the court case moves forward.

In an early December meeting, Dauphinais and Kirk told Raiger to report what he knew about Curtright to the Faculty Evaluation Committee. However, in late December, that plan changed. Raiger was reportedly told not to speak with the committee. Instead, an ad-hoc committee of three people, who are unnamed in the lawsuit, was formed in March to investigate Curtright.

That committee performed an investigation, and then issued a report. Raiger’s lawsuit states that the committee did not give him a copy of the report.

Raiger’s lawsuit states that university officials told him the “Curtright acts” were to be covered up and never mentioned again. Raiger claims Curtright was never disciplined.

In 2015, Raiger met with Towey and new Dean Seana Sugrue. During the meeting, Towey threatened to take Raiger’s benefits away, in part because he reported the “Curtright acts,” according to the lawsuit. Towey was also allegedly angry about comments Raiger’s wife had made and about the behavior of Raigers’s children on campus. Towey also blocked Raiger’s contractually agreed-upon promotion to associate professor, according to the lawsuit. Towey suggested to Raiger that he might ban spouses from speaking about matters pertaining to the university.

The Raigers have eleven children.

At the time, Raiger was working under a three-year rolling contract that ran through to the end of 2017. According to the lawsuit, after he raised concerns to Sugrue about Towey’s threats, Sugrue told Raiger that his benefits would be protected if he signed a new, one-year contract for the 2016/2017 academic year. Sugrue told Raiger that under this contract, his employment would automatically renew through to the end of the 2017/2018 academic year, as long as the school did not notify him otherwise by Nov. 1 of 2016. Raiger received no such notice that November, but the school told him in May of 2017 that he would not becoming back — a violation of the new, one-year contract he had been induced to sign.

Towey served in the George W. Bush administration as the director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. He also served as president of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Towey resigned from St. Vincent in 2009, a year before his contract there ended. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Towey’s tenure at St. Vincent was at times tumultuous.

In early 2008, 32 members of the faculty co-signed a confidential letter to the school’s board of directors, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, claiming that Towey’s actions as president were creating “an unparalleled crisis.”

The letter accused Towey of sanitizing St. Vincent’s self-study portion of the re-accreditation effort, and of using controlling tactics in the search for an academic vice president, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The letter claimed Towey had damaged the school’s academic integrity.

“The faculty at St. Vincent is gravely concerned about the current president’s systematic and pervasive disregard for collegiality and shared governance,” the letter states.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does note Towey raised large sums of money for St. Vincent.

According to the online docket, the school has yet to respond to Raiger’s lawsuit.

 ___
Image of President Towey from Ave Maria University

Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated after desecration by Fr. Luke Reese?

Fr. Luke Reese, Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis, dragged his wife through a violent, 18-hour ordeal in October, beating, choking and slapping her, throwing her against walls, kidnapping and sexually assaulting her, according to court records. The assaults reportedly occurred in his car, en route to her grandmother’s house, and in their home.

He also forced his wife to come inside Holy Rosary Church, and he assaulted her before the altar, his wife told police.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in court: Still wearing clerical garb, Fr. Reese made his wife to kneel before the altar, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, and putting his hands around her neck, and threatening to choke her as he demanded the password to her cell phone. He then threw her into a wall in the church before forcing her out of the building and back into his car. He then continued to physically and sexually assault her for another several hours.

Mugshot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox59 News

Fr. Reese has been charged with several crimes, including criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation. He has been released on bond, and his trial is scheduled for May.

According to local paper The Indy Star,

the ordinariate said Reese has been barred from performing any public ministry since he was placed on leave.

“Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter has pledged the diocese’s full cooperation with the civil authorities conducting the investigation,” the statement reads. “The Ordinariate is committed to collaborating with authorities to ensure justice is provided for all concerned, and affirms the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that domestic violence is never justified.”

Reese faces jail time. But his alleged crimes leave an aftermath that is not merely a legal matter, but a spiritual and canonical one.

Fr. Reese allegedly beat, threatened, and degraded his wife while forcing her to kneel before the consecrated altar. He is a priest who offers the holy sacrifice of the Mass at that altar. Do Reese’s alleged actions inside Holy Rosary constitute desecration? Does the church need to be reconsecrated?

Canonist and author Peter Vere said in an interview Tuesday:

“Given the alleged facts that have emerged … I am not certain how one could avoid concluding that a serious violation of the church’s sacred character had taken place.”

Vere said, “Certainly the act is grave, especially coming from an ordained priest. It was perpetuated at least in part in a sacred space. And it gives rise to scandal among both Catholics and non-Catholics.”

According to Canon 1211, the local Ordinary is the one who decides whether a serious enough violation has occurred.  If he judges the acts are grave, injurious, and scandalous enough to qualify as a violation of a sacred place, the church will need to be reconsecrated.

The local Ordinary, says Vere, could be the pope, the diocesan bishop, the Vicar General, or an episcopal vicar.

On what basis does the Ordinary make his judgment? The Navarre commentary on Canon 1211 says that there are three conditions which constitute a violation of sacred space. It says:

These conditions — necessary, but not sufficient — are: 1) the act is grave and injurious; 2) it gives rise to scandal; and 3) it was perpetrated in the sacred space. In order to ascertain whether an act fulfilling these conditions gives rise to the violation of a sacred place, one must refer to the judgment of the local Ordinary, unless he himself has previously enumerated the facts that constitute a violation . . . today, the sensitivity of the faithful to the scandal that has been produced should be considered as a criterion for assessing the scope of the facts.

 

Before a church is reconsecrated, there must be reparation for the desecration.

According to Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, “no sacred rite may be celebrated in the church” until reparation for the desecration has been carried out.

“Preaching to prepare for the penitential rite may be carried out. The people are encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, which should be celebrated in another church. To symbolize penance, the Ceremonial recommends: “The altar of the church should be stripped bare and all customary signs of joy and gladness should be put away, for example, lights flowers, and other such articles.”

Fr. McNamara says that “the Mass of reparation is the preferred mode,” and that “it is fitting that the bishop presides at the rite of reparation.” Here is a more detailed description of that rite.

Vere says it’s common for Church authorities to wait until civil authorities have completed their work. Vere said:

“Before any action is undertaken, the local Ordinary would first need to establish what happened. Right now the priest has been charged but his case has not yet gone to court. It is not unusual in Canada or the United States for Catholic ecclesiastical authorities to hold off canonical action until criminal charges by civil authorities are resolved.”

Vere said it would be unusual for reconciliation and reconsecration to take place without the inclusion of the congregation, “because liturgy is the Church’s public prayer and thus generally open to participation by the faithful,” and because the story is now public, and thus “many of the faithful have been affected.”

“Pastorally, these are the people the Church will want to reconcile by the liturgical action prescribed,” said Vere.

Fr. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Holy Rosary Church, warned his congregation in an October 1 bulletin announcement:

Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation … If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.”

The current bulletin, dated February 25, makes no mention of the Fr. Reese scandal. Reese is still designated as Parochial Vicar on the front page, and his name was only removed from the parish website after our story broke. On page four is a message from Pastor McCarthy regarding the blessing of same-sex unions. McCarthy says:

All of us as human beings, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, have a right to be treated with the respect that our God-given dignity demands. We also have a right to hear the truth, whether it pleases us or not — even if it unhappily seems to complicate the unity of the Church herself.

Greg Otolski, communications director for the archdiocese, has returned none of our numerous calls, emails, and text messages. We have also received no response from the Ordinariate despite numerous requests.

 

Image: Holy Rosary Church interior, photo by Joe Grabowski.

Indianapolis priest charged with beating wife inside church

By Damien Fisher

The first married Roman Rite Catholic priest in the state of Indiana is facing prison time as he heads to trial on charges he kidnapped and assaulted his wife.

Rev. Luke W. Reese, 48, the parochial vicar at Holy Rosary parish in Indianapolis is charged with criminal confinement with bodily injury, criminal confinement where a vehicle is used, kidnapping, domestic battery, battery resulting in bodily injury, and intimidation following a Sept. 24 incident in which he allegedly beat his wife* inside his church, and then sexually assaulted her over the course of an 18-hour ordeal.

Reese is a married Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Reese and his wife have been married for 25 years and have seven children.

According to court documents, Reese’s superiors already knew that he reportedly provided alcohol to minors, got intoxicated with minors, and shared white supremacist material with young people. After seeing his wife’s bruised and swollen face, his superiors suspended him.

Reese did not respond to a request for comment. His lead criminal attorney, Jeffrey Baldwin, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Mary Panszi, the attorney representing the wife in the divorce case, declined to comment in detail about the case, which has not been reported on until now. Panszi speculated as to why the case has so far garnered no media attention.

“I think that’s because the Catholic Church is extremely powerful,” Panszi said.  

Panszi did not want to cooperate with our report, and did not want to have her client contact us, because Panszi deemed us too Catholic.

“I am truly trying to distance myself and my client from the Catholic Church and those who are beholden to their faith, as I believe that they will do anything within their power to silence this matter,” Panszi wrote.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Marion County Court, on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24, Reese, wearing clerical garb, confronted his wife while she was in the backseat of a car with another man, Jay Stanley. According to the affidavit, Stanley was engaged in a romantic relationship with the wife.

Reese angrily demanded that his wife come with him. She instead got into her own car and agreed to drive to a specific location with Reese so they could get out and talk, according to the affidavit, written by Indianapolis Police Detective Erroll Malone.

Before leaving with his wife, Reese opened the door to Stanley’s car and kicked him in the face. Stanley said Monday he’s not sure why he didn’t call police after he was assaulted and the wife went away with her angry and violent husband.

“I don’t know why. I think that I just didn’t,” Stanley said. “I didn’t think any of that other stuff would happen.”

Once the couple reached the location in their separate cars, the wife got into Reese’s car so they could talk, according to the affidavit. That’s when Reese locked the car so she could not get out, and began to drive. During the drive, Reese repeatedly assaulted his wife with “backhands” while demanding the password for her cell phone.

Reese drove to Holy Rosary church and forced his wife inside the building, according to the affidavit. He brought her to the altar, and forced her to kneel. Before the altar, he assaulted her, hitting her in the face, pulling her hair, putting his hands around her neck, and continuing to demand her password, according to the affidavit.

“(He) stated he could choke her,” the affidavit reads.

On their way out of Holy Rosary, Reese threw his wife into a wall, and then brought her back out to the car, Malone writes. There, Reese allegedly slammed his wife’s head into the car’s door frame. The wife then relented, and gave up her password. Reese started reading her texts to and from Stanley, continuing to interrogate and backhand her as he drove, according to the affidavit.

Reese drove his wife out of Indianapolis, and its “temptations,” to Auburn. He wanted his wife to explain to her 90-year-old grandmother about her relationship with Stanley, according to the affidavit.

Family members told police the wife was crying when she arrived at the house in Auburn, and her face was swollen and bruised. The wife told her grandmother she had been talking to another man.

“What in the world happened to your mouth and eye?” the grandmother asked.

“I hit her, that’s what’s wrong with her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“A priest, and you beat her?” the grandmother said.

“I could have killed her,” Reese reportedly responded.

“Well, you didn’t kill her. So do you feel like a hero now?” the grandmother asked.

That’s when Reese forced his wife back into the car and began driving home. At one point, they stopped for gas, but Reese locked and alarmed the car to keep his wife inside during the stop, according to the affidavit.

They drove back to their home, when Reese forced his wife to go to bed. A short time later, after reading texts on her phone, Reese came back into the bedroom and tore her clothes off her. He then went into her closet and began tearing up her clothes that he deemed “too slutty,” according to the affidavit.

He left her for a short time, while he reportedly downloaded the text messages between his wife and Stanley onto his computer, and she got dressed. He then came back into the bedroom, and again tore off her clothes, sexually assaulted her, and took nude photos of her that he threatened to use to shame her to people in the parish community, according to the affidavit.

“(Reese) then ordered her to lay down and he then had intercourse with her,” Malone writes. “(She) stated she did not wish to have intercourse. However, she did not say no.”

These incidents started the night of Sunday Sept. 24 and continued into Monday, Sept. 25, in what Panszi described as an 18-hour ordeal.

Sometime on Monday, Rev. Ryan McCarthy, the pastor at Holy Rosary, came to the Reese’s house and saw the wife’s injured face. We could find no record that McCarthy called police after seeing her injuries. He suggested the couple take some time apart.

“(McCarthy) recommended the couple go their separate ways for about a week,” the affidavit states.

Reese agreed to leave their house for a few days. The wife eventually went to the hospital. She reported the assault to police on Sept. 27.

According to information we have developed, McCarthy gave the wife a sum of money in excess of $1,000 and helped her set up a bank account following the Sept. 24 incident, to help her with living expenses. We have not verified the exact amount or where the money came from.

Reese was arrested soon after the report was made, and was charged with felonies. He is currently free after posting $2,495 on a $25,000 Corporate Surety bond. His trial is scheduled for May. In December, Reese filed for divorce from his wife.

Holy Rosary placed Reese on six months leave in October. The archdiocesan website says only that Reese was “granted a six-month leave of absence.”

According to the affidavit, Reese’s superiors were already aware of other issues concerning Reese. The wife told police Reese was already in “hot water” over two incidents: One in which he reportedly supplied alcohol to minors and got intoxicated with them, and another in which he shared white supremacist materials with young people. Those incidents were reported by parents to church officials, according to the affidavit.

The wife also told police that Reese had been abusive to the family for quite some time before the Sept. 24 incident.

Greg Otolski, communications director for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis declined numerous requests for comment. We also reached out to officials in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Bishop Steven Lopes of Houston is Reese’s bishop. The communications director in Houston has not returned our calls.

UPDATE Feb. 27, 2018: The bulletin from Holy Rosary Church on October 1 contains “An important message about Fr. Reese” on page 4. In the message, the pastor, Fr. McCarthy, says that Fr. Freese has been granted a leave of absence. He warns parishioners that it would be a sin to speculate why Fr. Reese was gone, and says “he will be greatly missed” while he is on “leave of absence.” The message was written after Fr. McCarthy saw Reese’s wife’s facial injuries.

The entire message is as follows:

“Dear parishioners, This past Monday, Father Reese notified me that he was experiencing some personal and family issues which would require a greater amount of his attention. He let me know that he had asked for a leave of absence from Archbishop Thompson, and that he hoped it would be granted. I gave him the week off and, at the end of the week, the Archbishop informed me that he intended to grant Father Reese the leave of absence. As of the writing of this note, the length of the leave had not been fully determined, but it will be at least a few months. I expect it will extend past Christmas and into the new year. I ask that we all respect Father Reese’s and his family’s privacy to allow them to deal with these personal issues. I have made it clear to him that the parish and I will continue to pray for him and for his family during this time. Unless Father Reese happens to reach out to you, please do not interrupt this time allotted to him. Please do not ask me the details of Father Reese’s situation. As his pastor, I am privy to many of the details of his and his family’s personal life, as I am of most of my parishioners. I am not free to discuss these matters, just as I am not free to discuss your personal matters. If you do ask, I will politely but firmly tell you to “mind your own business.” Additionally, do not make Father Reese and his family the subject of speculation or gossip. This is a sin. Please do remember to pray for him and his family. I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave. Quite obviously, without a second priest active at Holy Rosary, our Mass schedule and other events will be affected. Please be patient with me and the staff as we work to adjust to the current situation and attempt to accommodate, as much as possible, all of the many activities at our parish. Thank you in advance for all your prayerful support. God bless!”

*We have chosen not to use the name of Reese’s wife in this story.

Image: Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis (Public Domain)

Alumni accept new Christendom apology, call for O’Donnell to resign

Christendom College says it has offered an apology to rape victims and their families. “We have failed our students,” said President Timothy O’Donnell.

But some alumni say that the statement is too little, too late, and that O’Donnell should resign.

“Timothy O’Donnell should resign as President of Christendom College,” said Greggory Gassman, class of 2010, on January 17.  Gassman has since been removed without explanation from the official Christendom Alumni group on Facebook.

Joe Wagner, class of 2011, also called for O’Donnell’s resignation.

“Dr. Timothy O’Donnell should step down as President of Christendom College. The new policies he has announced are good, but it is a serious failure of accountability that they were not in place 20 years ago,” Wagner said.

College does about-face in response to public pressure

It was less than a week ago that Christendom College responded to our articles exposing gross mishandling of sexual assault and harassment. Christendom at that time claimed our articles contained “misleading information and serious inaccuracies.”

But yesterday, a spokesman for the college said, “I want to extend my gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Fisher for giving these women a platform to share their voices with us.”

The college never clarified what was inaccurate or misleading in our articles. It said that the administration “has ordered a thorough review of their policies and resources for cases of sexual assault and harassment” and that the college “has issued an official apology to the victims and their families.”

The college’s entire January 24th statement is as follows:

“WE WILL DO BETTER,” CHRISTENDOM COLLEGE EXTENDS SUPPORT TO VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT
College Executive Vice President Offers to Meet with Victims

Front Royal, VA (Jan. 24, 2018) – Following recent alumni accounts of administrative mishandling of sexual assault reporting at Christendom College, the administration has ordered a thorough review of their policies and resources for cases of sexual assault and harassment. The College has issued an official apology to the victims and their families, and has reaffirmed its commitment to ensure the people from whom its students are seeking assistance are equipped with training, resources, and the capacity to respond to a victim’s needs with compassion, knowledge, and the ability to help.

“We have failed some of our students,” said Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, Christendom College’s president. “I am grateful to each woman who has come forward with her story. We need to hear you and your experience. Disclosing abuse and its aftermath is painful and difficult, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage. To those students who have been harmed, I am deeply sorry. We will do better.”

Ken Ferguson, executive vice president of Christendom College, has offered to meet personally with each and every victim in the presence of a certified trauma counselor. Anyone who wishes to meet is welcome to bring her own support personnel as well.

“We invite these victims to come forward and be heard,” said Ferguson. “We value their insight on concrete ways we can make this campus as safe as possible for women. And we ask, if possible, for their forgiveness. I want to extend my gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Fisher for giving these women a platform to share their voices with us.”

Additionally, the College has hired experts to review campus compliance with best practices in sexual assault and harassment. Christendom revised its protocols in recent years and is constantly reviewing these protocols to ensure they are effective when a student reports sexual assault or harassment.

“Since I arrived four years ago, I have thrown myself into improving campus life for the student body,” said Ferguson. “We recently established a new wellness initiative so that any student who needs these services has ready access to them. We’re expanding that initiative to include trauma counseling and support for Christendom students and alumni who have suffered sexual assault.”

Those seeking to meet are invited to reach out to Ken Ferguson at (540-636-2900) or by email at ken.ferguson@christendom.edu.

The statement  was originally only searchable through the Christendom website, and could only be found by using a direct link. It is now available on the site’s homepage.

Adele Chapline Smith, the first Christendom almuna and rape survivor to share her story with readers of this site, said she forgives O’Donnell and is grateful for the college’s stated intention to change. Smith said:

“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank Christendom College and Mr. Ken Ferguson for an excellent first step in repairing the damage done to the women of Christendom and their families under the O’Donnell administration; it is both welcome and appreciated. I am disheartened that this was not their initial response, but I am open to further dialogue with the college and am eager to hear how the administration plans to implement these changes. I forgive Dr. Timothy O’Donnell for 25 years of negligence toward those women in the Christendom community who suffered sexual assaults.”

But Smith wants O’Donnell to resign for the good of the school:

“[W]hile I forgive him, as Catholics we know that true contrition involves amending one’s life – and forgiveness does not negate natural consequences. For the good of the school, for the good of the vision of Dr. Warren Carroll, and for the good of the generations of students that have walked across that graduation stage in the past — and will walk across it in the future — it is my firm belief that Dr. O’Donnell should step down from his position as President of the college, and that Christendom College should implement Title IX regulations to ensure a safe and transparent environment for all current and prospective students.”

Why now?

The college says it has already changed and will continue to change. It says it wants to hear from students so it can help them.

We ask: Why now? What’s different? Why is today different from last week? Why is today different from last year, or ten years ago?

Last year, Christendom billed itself as “Almost Heaven.” Today, Christendom is calling for a day of fasting for its sins.

The only thing that has changed is that two blog posts were published on the internet. A handful of young women had the courage to speak up and tell their painful stories in public. But their stories have been available to President O’Donnell for years.

Timothy O’Donnell has known about rapes for years

Today, the school is acting. New members of the administration pledge real reform. But Timothy O’Donnell already knew for years what the rest of the world knows today.

Long before the college apologized, O’Donnell knew that this anonymous student also says she was raped by a Christendom student; that he also got away with it; that he also was protected by Christendom professors. She says that Timothy O’Donnell knew and decided not to act.

The woman says in her letter, “The college knew about it. But REDACTED continued his education at the school his daddy helped found without any ramifications. The college allowed a sexual predator, a rapist, to walk the halls of that institution for 4 years without a single thing being done to halt his reign.”

O’Donnell received this letter in December of 2017. We have confirmed that it was addressed to O’Donnell and that it refers to Christendom.

Adele Smith and other critics denied entry to alumni group

The school said on Wednesday that it is interested in hearing from “each and every victim.” But Adele Smith, the survivor who forced the story into the public eye, has been denied entry into the official Alumni group on Facebook. She has received no explanation for the denial.

Her rapist, though, is a member. Other alumni have requested entry and have been accepted during the same time frame that Smith requested entry and was denied. Several alumni say they have been removed from the group without explanation after they shared Smith’s story.

Positive testimony welcome; critics silenced

Just days earlier, Tom McFadden, Vice President for Enrollment & Marketing, solicited stories from Christendom alumni on the official alumni group, which is moderated by Vince Christe, Assistant Director of Alumni and Donor Relations.

Jane Riccardi, an alumna of Christendom, then suggested in the group that former students collect positive stories into a file to promote the idea that Christendom is an unusually safe place that “promotes the dignity, inherent worth, freedom, and safety of all women on campus.” Riccardi said in an email that she “was hopeful to begin a constructive and helpful conversation.”

Shortly after stories began coming in, it became apparent to some alumni that the stories were not all positive.

“If someone unsympathetic gets hold of the link [to the page for testimonies], it’s all over,” said one alum.

“This is definitely a concern,” another agreed.

Riccardi responded, “Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve changed the privacy settings and will instead collect responses by email.”

Riccardi then collected the positive testimonies into a document called  A Letter about Christendom College Culture and emailed it to the Fishers, calling Christendom “[a] pocket of fresh air offering an oasis away from the sewage of the culture at large.”

As of Friday, January 19, the official alumni group included in its guidelines the rule: “[P]lease refrain from posting articles or engaging in discussions about topics that criticize . . . Christendom College.”

Several almuni have reported being thrown out of the Facebook group, apparently for violating this rule by discussing the articles detailing  Smith’s rape.

Christendom says it wants students to come forward and report sexual abuse, to tell their stories. Some alumni express deep skepticism that the same college that excluded unfavorable testimony from alumni one day will be open to hearing and acting on damaging testimony from students the next day.

More stories of rape are ahead

We are currently working on corroborating seven other stories of sexual assault of Christendom students, including students who are currently enrolled at Christendom. These reports were grossly mishandled by the administration that is still in office.

Title IX would require the college to collect and report data

In the North Virginia Daily, Executive Vice President Ken Ferguson said:

“[W]hen [Director of Student Affairs] Amanda [Graf] and I arrived on the campus we built and documented the current (policy) which Amanda and I believe meets the rigorous requirements of Title IX despite the fact that the college is one of the few colleges in the nation that doesn’t receive any federal money and is not under the auspices of Title IX.”

Alumni say they are grateful for Ferguson’s efforts, but cannot trust the school’s intentions until O’Donnell is held accountable for his failures.

Gassman said, “I hope [Wednesday’s apology is] sincere. Sadly I’m skeptical since the school went 25 years without opting into Title IX reporting despite numerous rape and assault allegations. Taking GI Bill funds during that time while insisting they take no federal funds takes real concentrated effort to avoid Title IX and its reporting provisions.”

According to the latest available tax returns, O’Donnell’s compensation from the college totals over $320,000.

O’Donnell considered the college helpless to punish likely rapists a mere seven years ago . Despite claims that the school voluntarily meets Title IX requirements, the school still does not collect or report incidents of sexual assault or harassment.

Positive: School no longer expels pregnant students while allowing fathers to stay

According to alumnus John Connolly on his Facebook page,

“Though supporters of the college assert that the college would never abuse its right to expel and that the failure to take action in the 2009 case [of Adele Smith] was a protection of fairness and justice, we must remember that the college for many years would expel women for the crime of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Fathers of these children were allowed to stay on campus, while the women were forced to pay back crushing student loans without a degree. This hypocrisy eventually was reformed… when the word started getting in the public eye.”

Several alumni note that the school no longer expels students who become pregnant, and indicate that it is one of many positive signs of change at the college.

Amanda Graf’s name consistently comes up among alumni and current students as a dedicated and tireless force for change.

Alumna Donna Provencher said, “Ken [Ferguson ] has come out swinging for the victims, and we’re grateful for his support.”

Smith said, “I applaud Mr. Ferguson’s new policies, and suggest the administration reach out to the Bishop of Arlington requesting His Excellency’s aid in reforming the campus culture, student life formation, and curriculum. I love Christendom College. Those who are standing up for victims also love Christendom College. I very much look forward to further dialogue with Mr. Ferguson about our next step forward. Christendom can and must become the gold standard among Catholic colleges when it comes to upholding the dignity of the human person and protecting victims of sexual violence — a place where graduates truly do go on to restore all things in Christ.”

There are good things about Christendom, current and former students say. Dozens of letters of support continue to arrive in our inbox, expressing deep love for the school and a trust in the administration’s desire to change.

We believe women, and we that means we believe the many, many women who have good things to say about their experience at Christendom. We have read every one of their letters, and there were many.

But their good experience does not negate the horrific experience of the victims, including Adele Smith, the anonymous blogger, the anonymous women in our second story, and the seven others whose stories we continue to research.  O’Donnell’s continued presence, and his continued refusal to take direct responsibility, is an insult to all of them.

***

The Christendom Advocacy and Support Coalition, a new public advocacy group for victims of sexual assault from Christendom, has made this statement:

The Christendom Advocacy & Support Coalition would like to personally thank Mr. Ken Ferguson for the school’s public apology to those women in the Christendom family who have been deeply wounded under the O’Donnell administration; for the rollout of bright new plans and policies going forward; and for taking survivors seriously and encouraging them to meet with him. While we would wish for the sake of the survivors that a response like this had been the school’s initial response, we are nonetheless deeply grateful for progress made.

If the school offers to cover the travel and lodging/childcare costs for these victims and their families to speak to Mr. Ferguson, that would be a very encouraging sign of confidence.

While this is not the end of the changes Christendom needs to make in its cultural attitudes and student life policies regarding sexual assault, mental health, etc., we are pleased to have open lines of communication with the college and see such a heartening and hopeful first step taken toward restoring all things in Christ.

On behalf of the victims, we are grateful that the school is taking direct action, thanks in large part to Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Graf, to review current measures and commit to better systems going forward. We hope to see soon what this looks like in terms of concrete details, and we maintain that compliance with Title IX guidelines is a critical additional step for the school to implement.

We would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of our supporters to personally reach out to Ken Ferguson (ken.ferguson@gmail.com; (540) 636-2900) to thank him for his support and for believing women.

When we know better, we do better. We must believe women’s stories, for our faith tradition depends upon belief in a woman’s story.

“People say, ‘What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” –Servant of God Dorothy Day

St. Francis, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.
Bl. Laura Vicuña, pray for us.
Servant of God Dorothy Day, pray for us.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us.

#BelieveWomen #RestoreChristendom #Instaurare

CASC offers a private support group. Those interested in joining may contact Adele Smith, President: adele.smith@casc.services or Donna Provencher, Vice President of Communications & Victim Outreach: donna.provencher@casc.services
Bridget Randolph is Vice President of Public Policy.

****

Image: the front of a flyer for Christendom College. The flip side allows that they “cannot exactly guarantee Heaven upon graduation from Christendom College,” but touts their impressive stats: “only 1 known apostate” among graduates, and “only 1 known divorce.”

The flyer is  echoed by sentiments in this article by Tom McFadden in Seton Magazine. McFadden has worked for Christendom since the year 2ooo. Photos used with permission.

 

Christendom says it’s changed. Can we believe them?

Christendom says it’s changed. Can we believe them?
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On Wednesday, after we published two essays detailing Christendom College’s inadequate response to sexual assault by and on its students, the college released a statement. Out of professional courtesy, we referred to the statement as an “apology.”
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The statement, which rape survivors from Christendom referred to as a “non-apology” and a “slap in the face,” briefly offers that the school  “would like to apologize to any of those in our community who feel they were not properly responded to concerning an alleged sexual harassment and assault.”
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It then asserts that the school has made significant changes in policy, so as to prevent sexual assault and to be more responsive if it occurs.
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The statement opens by claiming that our two essays contained “misleading information and serious inaccuracies,” but it did not specify what those might be.
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We published that statement in full on Wednesday, with the intention of responding to it on Thursday.
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But on Thursday evening, a newspaper local to Christendom published an article titled “Christendom responds to claims it brushed off rape charges.”  It makes the same reference to “misinformation and inaccuracies” that the school’s statement does, also without specifying what that misinformation or inaccuracies are.
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Then it quotes Executive Vice President Ferguson saying:
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“We offered to speak to the author and they declined because they said they wanted to release the information before we could have a meeting,” Ferguson said. “Extremely odd. So they didn’t have any desire to get to the truth of the article.”
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This is false. This is the opposite of what we tried to accomplish.
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We wanted very much to get President O’Donnell’s comment on our essays before they went to press. On Friday, Damien called the school four times and they called us twice. Damien left a message for Timothy O’Donnell. That call was returned by Nial O’Donnell, who said he would try to get Damien an interview with Dr. O’Donnell. Damien told him we were planning to publish over the weekend.
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Nial O’Donnell then called back and explained Timothy O’Donnell would not be able to call back until Tuesday. Hoping to encourage him to call back sooner, Damien told Nial O’Donnell we did not plan to wait.
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Nial O’Donnell then said he would try and get Timothy O’Donnell to call before Tuesday. He did not specify a time of day.
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So we waited until Tuesday. When the call did not come, we published the essays.
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On Friday, Amanda Graf called Damien and confirmed that Christendom did not have a sexual assault policy in the student handbook until 2013. Graf is Director of Student Affairs. On Friday, Damien also called former dean Jesse Dorman, who did not return the call; and he attempted to reach Dr. Marschner, formerly of Christendom.
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In summary: We held the piece longer than we wanted to, calling repeatedly, hoping to get a statement from O’Donnell. The school said O’Donnell would try to call before Tuesday. He did not. We published on Tuesday. Ferguson’s account of the exchange, that the school offered to talk and we refused, is made up of whole cloth.
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This message was shared with alumni:

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This account is also false. At no point did anyone from the school tell Damien that O’Donnell would be available to speak between 2-4 PM on Tuesday. They told Damien O’Donnell would call us “before Tuesday.” We “moved ahead without talking to him” because, when Tuesday arrived and he had not called, we assumed he did not intend to call and there was no longer any reason to wait.
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Ferguson also said in the North Virginia Daily story, “I cannot comment legally [about alleged sexual assault], due to confidentiality laws around sexual harassment and Title IX specifically because I’m bound to keep that information confidential.”
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However, as we reported in our original piece, and as Ferguson himself says later in the NV Daily article, Christendom does not receive federal funding, and so is not subject to Title IX regulations, including anything to do with confidentiality or with collecting or reporting data on sexual assault or harassment.

The article says, “Ferguson said he was not aware of any sexual harassment or assault claims made by a student at the college in his five years at Christendom. However, Ferguson said college officials have conducted interviews with students about potential infractions.”
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So let’s think about this, based on the way the school has responded to this story so far.
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What would happen if a hypothetical student contacted the office today to report a rape?  Would Ferguson leave the calls unanswered, but then report to the world, “We offered to speak to the victim, but she declined”?
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What would happen if a prospective parent asked about current rates of sexual assault by Christendom students? Would Ferguson claim that he cannot say, because of confidentiality laws he’s not actually bound by?
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The school says that is has changed. Many sources close to the school affirm that Amanda Graf is very dedicated to her job and wants Christendom to change its ways.
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But the administration that saw no need to institute a formal sexual abuse policy for decades, despite many stories of sexual assault like the ones we detailed in our essays? That administration is still there.
And they’re still not returning our calls. (Yes, we’ve continued to call, including on Thursday night.)
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If you’re a current Christendom student, do you trust that the school has changed?
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If the school has not changed, and sexual assault continues to be minimized by the administration, do you trust the school to be transparent about that?
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We urge any past or current student or parent of students to contact us with information about student life on campus right now.  We want the truth. This has always been our goal. We are the Catholic parents of eight daughters. We want to know what life is like on the Catholic colleges we’re considering.
Does life at Christendom reflect the “respect and honor for women” that President O’Donnell claims it now does?  Our contact information is simchafisher@gmail.com or damien.t.fisher@gmail.com.
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And once again, for the sixth time, we extend an invitation to Timothy O’Donnell to return our numerous phone calls. We are eager to speak about student safety.
***
Image: detail of photo By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Christendom College issues official apology

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, has just posted this official response to our recent  two posts. Tom McFadden, VP for enrollment, has verified that it was written and posted by the college, and that the same statement will be posted on the Christendom homepage on Thursday, January 17.

We are glad the school took the trouble to respond. We are nowhere near done with this story. 

***

OFFICIAL RESPONSE FROM CHRISTENDOM

A recent blog, which contains misleading information and serious inaccuracies, was posted about Christendom College. Despite those inaccuracies, the hearts and prayers of our entire Christendom College community go out to all involved in the incidents described and to anyone who may be a victim of sexual harassment or assault.

We would like to apologize to any of those in our community who feel they were not properly responded to concerning an alleged sexual harassment and assault.  Christendom College will continue to do everything it can to understand how to best respond to these very difficult and tragic situations. In retrospect, the College may not have served these victims as well as we could have, and for this hurt we are truly sorry for any additional pain that this may have caused.

Please be assured that Christendom College is committed to maintaining an academic environment free of discrimination and all forms of coercion that impede the academic freedom, security, or well-being of any member of the community.

As a campus dedicated to following the teachings of the Catholic Church, we strive to foster an environment where every student feels safe and respected and where the dignity of the human person is upheld and honored. Sexual harassment and assault is inimical to such an environment. As part of this commitment, the College undertakes to educate the student body about sexual harassment and assault.
•       We have a new sexual harassment and assault policy published in the Student Handbook with instructions on how to report sexual harassment and assault and how to receive resources for recovery (page 29 of the student handbook).
•       New student orientation includes a session that covers sexual harassment and assault, reporting, and on-campus resources for support.
•       RAs are now trained in responding to and reporting sexual harassment or assault.
•       Our on-campus nurse and counselor are available at no cost and can help with trauma and recovery.
•       We now have a formal grievance policy students can use to make a complaint against any campus community member who is not covered by the student policy (e.g. faculty, staff, etc.). We can use this process to address inappropriate comments or unreasonable behavior that makes students feel uncomfortable.
•       A female Residence Life staff member now lives in the women’s residence halls. This gives women more of an opportunity to share a concern or incident with a staff member they trust. A male Residence Life staff member also lives on campus to assist the men.
•       We now offer both a men and women’s monthly formation series that addresses mental health, healthy relationships, and other gender-specific topics.

If some believe that our efforts and policies have failed to bring justice to their particular situations, please understand that despite being fallen human beings, the faculty and staff do their very best every day to provide a just and safe environment.

Respect and honor for women was at the heart Christ’s mission and therefore it is at the heart of the mission of Christendom College. We are committed in our policies, our procedures, and in our on-campus culture to uphold and promote the dignity of women and men.

We will continue to do so in fidelity to our mission: to restore all things in Christ.

Dr. Timothy T. O’Donnell
President
Christendom College

Are women safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part II

In Part I of this article, Adele Smith related how she was raped by a fellow student from Christendom College, but the school failed to acknowledge the rape or punish the student for it, imposing only minor sanctions for harassing her after the rape.  Smith claims the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.

Smith is not the only female student who makes this charge.

This has happened before

Adele Smith mentioned that there was nothing to prevent a rape like hers from happening again at Christendom. In fact, it had already happened, more than once.

A female student, a friend and classmate of Adele Smith’s older brother, says that her boyfriend raped her just off campus, too, in January of 2005. The woman has told very few people about the assault, and she does not wish to use her name.

She didn’t even know to use the word “rape” to describe what happened to her, until the moment she heard that yet another friend, a former Christendom student, had also been raped by yet another Christendom male student just off campus.

“I honestly thought it was just me,” she said. “Then I started hearing more and more stories, and I realized it was happening to a lot of people.”

“That’s Christendom culture.”

She believes if she told anyone on campus she had been raped, she would have been blamed, and would have heard, “What were you doing? What were you wearing?”

“That’s Christendom culture. We had hours and hours and hours of talks on modesty, dress code, how to act, how to keep boys chaste, all of those things,” she said. “The guys were just told to wear ties to Mass. I didn’t realize at the time there was any imbalance. What a girl wore and how she carried herself or what she said  . . . she was responsible for both her actions and men’s.”

She describes the PDA policy in the same way as Smith did.

“It was almost like you’d see in a prison: No touching! Even just to sit next to a person, you had to go off campus. Which made it easier to go further,” she said.

Her boyfriend was a Catholic young man she had met that year at Christendom. He wanted to take her out after they got back from Christmas break, and she was excited at the prospect of a “real date” off campus.

Dressing for the evening was “above and beyond your average giggling and getting ready for a date,” she said. She remembers going to her RA twice to check her outfit, to make sure it was not only nice, but “classy and feminine, modest and dignified, all that good stuff.”

“He was the man.”

She was disappointed when her boyfriend told her their date would consist of simply sitting in his car and watching a movie on his laptop.

“He was the man. He planned the date, he decided things, and I went with him,” she said.

They drove out to a local park in Front Royal. She doesn’t know where they went. It was dark. She says it seems crazy now, but she didn’t feel she had the right to question him.

He suggested they move to the back seat where there was more room. She became alarmed, because “that’s what people do in movies,” but told herself that, while she was short, he was tall, and he probably just needed more leg room.

She says she didn’t mind him getting physically affectionate at first, but as he persisted, she became uncomfortable, and told him several times to stop.

“He had me give him a blow job,” she said. “Forcibly, he held me there. It can’t have been very good, because I had no idea what I was doing.”

She told him she didn’t want to do it, but “that didn’t matter.” He was very strong. She pulled away several times.

“I didn’t hit him or anything. I couldn’t put what was happening together with what should be happening. It was just too unreal,” she said.

He then penetrated her with his fingers. She told him “No,” and pushed him away several times, but again, “That didn’t matter. ” She was in “complete shock.”

About ten minutes later, he abruptly told her, “We can’t keep going like this.” He then said he was afraid she might get pregnant, and that they needed to break up.  He immediately drove her back to campus.

Some of her friends were watching a movie in the gym, and she blindly went and sat with them.  One friend later told her that he could see there was something wrong, but he thought she had just had a bad night.

“I hoped he would forgive me.”

She later told her friends she and her boyfriend had broken up, but never said why. She blamed herself for not being a good enough girlfriend. “Was I not dressed modestly enough?” she asked herself.

After the rape, she saw herself as “a complete failure, as a Catholic, as a woman, as a horrible girlfriend who had caused him to sin.” She repeatedly apologized to him, hoping he would “forgive her” and maybe take her back as his girlfriend.

“That makes me want to barf now,” she said.

A source close to Christendom says that people send their children to Christendom because “they’ve raised them in a bubble and they want that bubble to continue.”  She said mothers of students have told her they don’t want to talk to their children about consent, because it might make them curious about sexual matters. She says that, in recent years, the male students have been given more talks and education about how to treat female students with respect and dignity, but the word “consent” is not used.

“Is there a poster hanging up in a common area, telling you what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted? No. I’d bet my right arm on it,” this source said.

“Didn’t something like that happen to you?”

The young woman who was assaulted that night in 2005 revealed small portions of her story to a friend, who suspected that what she was describing was rape. The story was passed among friends, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the young woman acknowledged to herself that it was rape. The realization happened when another student told her she’d heard another story which sounded horribly familiar: A girl was parked with her boyfriend, a Christendom student, off-campus to watch a movie on a laptop, and he raped her. The male students was friends with the male student who perpetrated the first assault. The first woman’s friend asked her, “Didn’t something like that happen to you?”

The first young women immediately drove to the house of the woman who had just been assaulted, to talk to her about what had happened.

“This happened to me, and I didn’t say anything until literally right now,” she told her. “I don’t want to force you into something, but I don’t want you to make my mistake. I’m just now realizing this is a big problem.”

She persuaded the second young woman to go to the hospital and get a rape kit done. The second young woman also went to the police, but, because she didn’t have any bruises or cuts, they advised her that her case would not go anywhere.

“This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist.”

An official whom the first woman describes as “the battered woman counsellor” told the second young woman, “I’ve seen a lot of these, and I can tell you right now it’s not going to go anywhere. This is Front Royal; no judge is going to convict a rapist, even with evidence.”

She was also told that, in Front Royal, a prosecutor will assume that a religious young woman such as herself is simply feeling guilty for having had sex, and is calling it “assault” to assuage her conscience. So the second young woman stopped pursuing a legal case.

According to the first young woman, all of Front Royal is “a notorious boy’s club.” She says a female employer once told her, “Basically, guys don’t have anything to worry about.”

The second young woman went to the Christendom administration with her complaint, according to the first young woman.

“She was confident it was going to be dealt with seriously and professionally,” she said. “I was less sure.”

Just looking for drama

Nothing ever came of the complaint. The Christendom student who assaulted the second young woman ended up transferring out, which was hailed as good news for the girls. The young woman who was raped in 2005 said that one professor told her the female students were making too much of it, “just looking for drama.”

She says sexual assault is “something we stick our heads in the sand about, as conservatives, as Catholics. ‘Don’t be a slut, and it won’t happen to you!’ But that’s not how it works.”

The ordeal has not damaged her faith, but it has changed her perspective.

“By the time I saw [the school] brushing things off, I had moved to a place where I could say, ‘No, that’s wrong. They’re not representative of the entire faith,’” she said.

She was able to separate their actions from Catholicism itself; but she was disillusioned with Christendom.

“A lot of their policies create an environment where stuff like this can happen, and especially where it can go unreported,” she said.

Perception is so important.

She says the school heavily promotes the idea that the campus is like a safe, happy family, that “[p]arents can send their homeschooled, sheltered, don’t-know-anything-about-the-world kids there, and they will be safe. Curfew’s at ten, everyone wears skirts, and it’s just perfect. The closest thing to having them at home.”

But current students and alumni say the school has a “boys will be boys” attitude which allows the male students to harass and grab at the women. If a young woman is raped or assaulted, the other students are ready to assume she did something wrong. Several students interviewed for this story made a distinction between “rape” and “date rape,” and only acknowledged when pressed that rape is rape.

The school administration has a vested interest in failing to punish male students who commit sexual assault.

“People see it to be a traditional Catholic School, and there’s a tendency to whitewash anything that did happen,” Elizabeth Foeckler, former RA, said.

More than one alumna said that many of the teachers at Christendom are excellent and caring, and that many of the students are sincere and faithful people. When asked what they would say to a student interested in attending Christendom, they said it could work out, as long as you go in with your eyes open.

In many cases, says a source close to the college, the rules regulating campus life arise from an ideology, and not from a practical understanding of student behavior. The lower echelons of the administration, those who deal directly with students, struggle with trying to convey ideas like safety and consent without subverting the founders’ notions of what virtuous student life looks like.

The result is an unusually vulnerable population of young women who don’t know how to navigate basic relationships, and who are terrified to express their wishes for fear of being rude, and are afraid to speak out when they or their friends are hurt.  They don’t have the words to describe what happened to them if they are assaulted, and they feel very strongly that they will be blamed for anything that happens to them.

And there is the reputation of the school to guard. “Perception is so important,” said the woman who never reported her rape at Christendom. “We have to evangelize, so everything untoward would be covered up.”

Adele Smith says there was a running joke among the student body about the fountains on campus.

“The school had lots of fountains,” she said, “But the carpets were the original carpets. They were thirty-eight years old. If you lived in the dorm, you were going to be sick. They installed fancy fountains, visible to everyone. But in student living, you can’t get new carpets.”

“Let’s craft and paint the outside,” she said. “But if the inside is not so good? It’s okay.”

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom, was unavailable for comment when we called. He is still welcome to return our call.

***

This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher. Part I can be found here. 

 ***
***
Image credits:
christendom sign: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Statue By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
regina coeli hall By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352616
student center By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352611
front royal clock  Clevergrrl via FLickr
church By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
men’s dorm By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
seal By Niall ODonnell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Are women safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part I

Christendom College, a small, Catholic, liberal arts school in Front Royal Virginia, celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Christendom is praised as a safe haven where young students can focus on their studies, grow in their faith, and “breathe the Catholic air.” But several former and current students say the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which publishes an authoritative annual guide to Catholic Colleges, says Christendom “makes a point to emphasize virtuous living, which translates to a faithful Catholic lifestyle and strong friendships. With this goal in mind, the College utilizes single-sex dormitories, visitation policies to promote chastity, planned weekly events as a way to proactively promote sobriety and counter any temptation toward a ‘drinking scene,’ and spiritual programs to foster students’ prayer lives and spirituality.”

Adele Smith, class of 2012, experienced some culture shock when she arrived at Christendom. Accustomed to a large, sociable, extended family, she knew Christendom would be conservative, but was bemused by the strict segregation of males and females. She describes the “open houses” that would take place in the dorms once a semester.

“The girls would get baked goods and candy, and the guys would come into the dorm and take a tour. It was very much like a museum, like an exhibit. It was the same with the guys’ open house, except they’d have TVs and video games. ‘This is how the native people on the men’s side of campus live!’ This is not how young people engage in a normal way. It felt like a human zoo.”

The school’s rigid rules governing male and female interaction weren’t just awkward, though. Smith claims they are dangerous.

Rigid student life rules drive students off campus

She says that the rules against romantic public displays of affection were so restrictive, it drove couples off campus. Because Christendom is in a rural, isolated spot with few restaurants, clubs, museums or theaters, going off campus generally means going into the woods or into a field.

“It’s just a natural human need to connect with someone you’re in a relationship with,” Smith said. “Just to hold hands, they’d go off campus for a date; and by ‘off campus,’ it could in be in the woods, or in a field down the road. There are not a lot of options if you don’t have a car. So you end up having couples potentially isolate themselves. They should be able to express themselves romantically in a public setting, which is a safer setting to learn how to navigate as a couple. Instead, you’re put into remote, isolated areas where things can get out of hand.”

That’s precisely what happened when Smith was raped by her then-boyfriend, a fellow Christendom student. The rape occurred on Friday, October 2, 2009, on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, about thirty minutes away from the college campus. We contacted the young man and he has not yet responded, so we are not using his name at this time.

“He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith, who was then a sophomore, says she was so naive, she didn’t even know to use the word “rape” until many months later. She told her friends, “He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith had hurt her back in a car accident when she was a freshman. On the day of the rape, she re-injured her back while cleaning her room for Homecoming Weekend, and so her new boyfriend suggested that they have a low-key, relaxing date.

He didn’t have a license, so, at his suggestion, they borrowed a friend’s car and she drove them up to a scenic point overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. He told her her back might be more comfortable in the back seat, and they could put the laptop in the center console to listen to music.

“In retrospect, I can say, ‘You’re a dummy!’ But back then, I was nineteen. He was my friend, I knew him, I knew his sister, and it felt very natural sitting in the back,” Smith said.

He started kissing her. She had no objection, as they had kissed before. But when he started putting his hand inside her shirt, she told him “No,” and pushed his hand away. She said, “I’m not comfortable with that,” and he said, “Okay.”

“Then he tried it again, and I pushed his hand away, and said, ‘Please, I don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ Then he tried a third time,” she said.

They were in a confined space; the young man was around six feet tall, and Smith is five feet tall.

“If it was me vs. a kitten, the kitten would win,” Smith says.

“I can’t stop him, apparently.”

She had been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder after graduating high school, and her anxiety kicked in at this point. She said she realized she could not stop the man.

“He’s not stopping. I’ve told him three times not to. I can’t stop him, apparently,” she recalled thinking.

The young man then started unbuttoning her jeans, and she again told him “No.” He pulled her down so she was flat on the back seat.

“I had my arms pushed together, my elbows to my hands pushed together in front of my chest, trying to keep myself covered. He pushed my arms apart with his hands. My legs were tightly closed. He took his knee and pushed my legs open, pulled my shirt off, and pulled my jeans down. I felt him,” she said.

“Up until that point, I considered myself fairly knowledgeable,” she said. “But it took me a second to realize what was happening. I remember thinking, ‘Is that what I think it is? Is that what’s happening right now?'”

“Why are you making such a big deal of it?”

Smith does not remember getting dressed after the rape. She remembers standing outside the car, smoking a cigarette and shaking, and her boyfriend saying he didn’t know why she was making such a big deal out of it. So she drove them down the mountain and back to campus.

It took all of her strength not to drive off the mountain. She returned the car to her friend, went back to her dorm, sat down in the shower fully clothed, and cried.

Although Smith’s patron is Maria Goretti, the teenaged saint who was stabbed to death while resisting rape, Smith said the concept of rape was foreign to her. She didn’t want to accept that something so ugly had happened to her.

“When I tried to figure out what had happened, I would say, ‘He had sex with me, but I didn’t,’” she said.

Smith texted her boyfriend the next day, saying she didn’t want to see him again. He responded by calling her a bitch and a prude, and saying, “You know you liked it.” She blocked his number.

The victims always blame themselves.

Smith skipped many classes her sophomore year, unable to endure being in the same room with him. Her GPA slipped to 1.2.

It wasn’t until the beginning of her junior year that she heard the word “rape” applied to her ordeal. She was at a party hosted by her theology teacher, Eric Jenislawski, after a meeting of the Chester-Belloc Debate Society. Smith and her brother stayed long after midnight talking, and Jenislawski told her he knew something had happened to her. He said she noticed a change in her, and wanted her to know he was there to help her if she wanted to talk.

Smith told him what happened

“I’m so sorry you were raped,” Jenislawski said.

At first she didn’t want to allow that word, and grew defensive, blaming herself for the assault.

“When you’re Catholic you’re taught that your virginity is one of the best gifts you have, a gift you can give your husband,” Smith said. “I had been a virgin. I had been waiting for marriage. I was that fallen woman, and I didn’t want my parents to see me that way. That was not how my parents were, but sex assault is unique crime. The victims always blame themselves.”

But Jenislawski was the first one who made her feel like the rape wasn’t her fault. He encouraged her to get counseling and to tell the school administration what had happened. An RA friend, Elizabeth Foeckler, also encouraged her to go to the administration.

“I had seen already something was wrong, something had happened,” Foeckler said.

The idea of reporting her rape scared Smith. The young man was charismatic, well-known, and well-liked on campus. When she told a few of her friends that something had happened between them, he began circulating the story that she had seduced him and then regretted it.

“Hit me.”

He then began approaching and provoking her on campus. One day, she was sitting and waiting for a friend to come out of his dorm, and the young man who had assaulted her came out. He sat beside her and began to make small talk, putting his hand on her leg. She felt frozen and could not reply. After what felt like hours, he left. She fled to her dorm and went to bed.

Another day, while other students played some sort of game on campus, the young man approached her and began to insist that she slap him across the face.

“He kept saying, ‘Hit me.’ He kept grabbing my hand and trying to make me slap him,” Smith said.

Smith thinks he might have been trying to make it appear that she was the one who assaulted him. He also told some students that she pulled a knife and forced him into sexual acts.

Smith’s grades continued to slide, and her mental and physical health suffered as students and even outsiders, people she didn’t know, would approach her in the dining hall to talk about the ordeal.

The chances of going to trial are very low.

In April of 2011, Smith decided to tell the police about the rape. Front Royal Police told her it was out of their jurisdiction, since it had happened in a national park. Discouraged, Smith hesitated, then eventually called law enforcement rangers and met with them at Shenandoah National Park.

They explained to her that a prosecutor would take her case, but that the chances of going to trial, much less of the young man being prosecuted, were very low.

Smith’s father consulted with a lawyer friend, who said that the best they could realistically hope for would be that the young man’s record would include an accusation of rape. If he was accused again in the future, the record would help support that accusation.

“But the job of the press would be to make me out a liar,” Smith said, noting that rape victims often find the trial to be more traumatizing than the actual event. “The idea of being torn apart in court by someone with a law degree, and it being in the paper, was too much for me to imagine. So I pinned all my hopes for justice on my Catholic, conservative college, to uphold moral principles.”

So she went to the then-dean, Jesse Dorman, and reported the rape and subsequent harassment. The school promised to conduct a “complete and careful investigation.”

In loco parentis

Next came many months of frustration for the Smith family. In a letter dated May 16, 2011, Scott Smith, her father, wrote to Timothy O’Donnell, the president of Christendom,

“Adele’s grades plummeted that first semester of her sophomore year. She sought psychological help from Dr. Patrick Divietri. She has nightmares about the incident. She developed Crohn’s disease, a disease exacerbated by severe stress. Adele has no ‘bad girl’ reputation on campus. Her subsequent behavior is entirely consistent with that of someone who has been traumatized and assaulted. She implored [her brother] Peter to continue to live in Front Royal and to visit the campus often because she felt so unsafe.”

Scott Smith states in his letter that he left messages for nearly a week before he was able to arrange to speak to the dean, and that the telephone conference was “disquieting.”

“We clearly received the impression that Mr. Dorman wasn’t going to do anything . . . Mr. Dorman showed no apparent interest in pursuing any sort of investigation,” Scott Smith wrote.

Dorman, who no longer works for Christendom, did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Smith’s parents also drove the four hundred miles to meet with the dean, hoping to encourage him to take the charges against their daughter’s rapist seriously.

“Forgettable as most commencement addresses are, I remember yours clearly,” Scott Smith wrote to O’Donnell. “You spoke to the parents of the graduating students gathered there of the profound sense of responsibility you felt of acting in loco parentis for our children and your gratitude that we, as their parents, had entrusted our children to you . . .

“But here Christendom has done the opposite. It has sent the implicit message to women at Christendom that the such attacks ‘within the Christendom family’ will be tolerated, that the attacker will receive no punishment, that women who are attacked will have to endure the fear of retaliation, both on a physical level, and on the level of damage to their reputations.”

“So now my daughter must endure the presence of her attacker on the campus. Each day that goes by, she is reminded that nothing will happen to him. Each day she is persuaded that the college has no intention of supporting her.

A week later, in a letter dated May 23, 2011, President O’Donnell responded.

“Respectfully, I must disagree with your recollection . . . [in loco parentis] is not a phrase that I use with any frequency,” O’Donnell wrote toward the end of his letter to Scott Smith. “But more importantly, I think that you might be using the term more broadly than is appropriate in this matter. In speaking with our counsel, it is my understanding that under Virginia law, the doctrine of in loco parentis as applied to colleges and universities simply means that Christendom has a responsibility to provide a safe campus for its students. Christendom is very diligent in making sure that it provides a safe campus for the education of our students.”

Throughout the letter, O’Donnell refers to the young man by his last name, but refers to Adele Smith by her first name.

In the letter, O’Donnell tells Smith’s father that the school “understands the anguish” the Smith family is feeling as they wait for a judgment against the young man, and that the college will make “a complete and careful investigation of [Smith’s] allegations before rendering a decision that will impact both the life of the accused and the accuser.”

“After a prior incident”

Two months later, the school explained what the young man would be charged with: harassing Smith “after a prior incident.” The charges do not mention rape.

In the charge letter delivered to the young man on July 19, 2011, then-dean Jesse Dorman wrote:

“The intent of the Student Life Office is to support each student as he or she works to grow in virtue . . .

“we have reports that indicate that you have violated the Code of Student Conduct by harassing another student and causing emotional harm. The reports indicate that Adele Smith indicated, after a prior incident with you, that she no longer wanted a relationship with you. Then on November 24, 2009, you sat next to her on a bench and made unwanted contact with her by placing your hand on her knee. Furthermore, it is alleged that you continued to harass her by trying to provoke her to slap you, hit you or kiss you. Another student instructed you to leave her alone but you continued. After Adele did slap you, you allegedly said, ‘If you slapped me really hard and it really hurt, I wouldn’t want to kiss you.’ It is further alleged that on other occasions you went out of your way to volunteer with groups of friends that Adele had seduced you.

“Therefore, you are being charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct.”

A disciplinary conference was scheduled for July 28 of 2011. The school determined the young man was “responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

His punishment: He could not live on campus for one semester, and he could not contact Adele Smith.

Smith and her family were floored. There was no mention of her accusation of rape, either in the charge letter or in the sanction letter. The entire passage describing his offense is as follows:

“Specifically, you admitted: to placing your hand on Adele Smith’s knee, attempting to provoke her to slap you and or to kiss you to deal with her frustrations with you, and finally for telling some students around campus that she had seduced you. You did emphasize at length with regards to the first two incidents that they were not done maliciously and you found them to be normal interactions. As I informed you at the meeting, I do not find these interactions with Adele to be acceptable, appropriate, or in keeping with our Code of Student Conduct. Therefore I found you responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

What does the handbook say?

The school apparently based its response on two facts: First, there was, in 2011, no clause in the student handbook prohibiting sexual assault. Amanda Graf, the current Director of Student Affairs at Christendom, confirms that student handbook did not include a policy against sexual assault until 2013, two years after Smith reported her rape.

Second, the rape occurred off campus; and so the school considered itself helpless to respond to it.

“[T]he alleged assault of Adele did not take place on campus. Rather, the incident apparently occurred in a national park several miles away from Christendom’s campus,” O’Donnell wrote in his letter to Scott Smith. “Moreover, both Adele and Mr. [redacted] are adults — meaning that Christendom faculty and staff have inherently limited options for enforcing standards of appropriate (or even prudent) conduct, especially when students leave the confines of campus.”

When you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.

Students are, however, punished for coming back to campus drunk, even if the drinking took place off campus — for instance, at “The River,” a popular drinking spot where even professors are known to visit and socialize. “The River” and the drinking that occurs there is an open secret that the administration is aware of.

“I always find it interesting they always try to punish students for drinking off campus, if you come back to campus drunk,” Smith said. “I say, if you rape off campus, when you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.”

Smith says that the administration cracked down on professors hosting off-campus parties, because they involved drinking. The message delivered was clear, according to Smith.

“We care if you drink off campus, but not if you rape off campus,” she said.

Sanctions

Although the school imposed sanctions on the young man, he was taken under the wing of one of its founders and professors, William Marshner, and he lived in Marshner’s house for the semester he was barred from living on campus. Marshner has since left Christendom.

After the sanctions were imposed, Smith and the young man still had classes together, including core classes that were required for all students.

“It was up to me to avoid him,” she said. “I would go down the road to the convenience store, and he’d be sitting outside, and I couldn’t walk in. I would go to the only cafe in town, and he’d be sitting outside. I would turn around and drive right back. All his body language was hostile and arrogant.”

Her focus and concentration were gone.  Her grades continued to be low for the rest of her junior year.

“It was my story.”

Then, one day during her senior year, her friend texted her that Marshner was talking about her in his moral theology class, using thinly veiled language.

The teacher gave the class a hypothetical example of a young man and woman who were dating and decided to go off campus to Skyline Drive. In the example, they decide to fornicate, but then the young woman regrets her choice, and decides to claim the young man attacked her.

“In what world is this okay?” Smith said. “It was my story. Everyone knew.”

Smith complained to the school, and she says they gave Marshner “a slap on the wrist.”

Smith considered leaving the college, and looked into other schools. Her parents, brother, and friends encouraged her to transfer.

“But the stubborn Irish in me determined if I left, he would win. He’s taken enough from me; he’s not gonna take this.”

But he did take it away from her, she says.

“I can’t get into grad school with my GPA. It’s hard to explain why my GPA is so poor.”

It takes a long time to change the handbook.

The young man left Christendom in Smith’s senior year. His absence helped her reclaim some of her focus. But in that year, 2012, a year after she reported her rape, the school still had not added a policy against sexual assault to their student handbook.

“There was nothing to stop this from happening again,” Smith said.

Smith says the school claimed it “takes a long time” to implement changes in school policy.

“No, it takes opening a word document and writing it up: ‘Don’t rape people.’ If there’s a single member on your board who has an issue with that, they shouldn’t be on that board,” Smith said.

Smith continued to call the school after graduation to see if they had changed the policy. In 2013, after Smith had graduated from the school, she again downloaded the student handbook and was aghast to see there was still no language forbidding sexual assault by students. It wasn’t until August of that year  that the language was added to the handbook.

The student handbook now includes a sexual assault policy.

Christendom College does not receive federal funding, and so is not subject to Title IX regulations, which would legally require it to respond to and remedy hostile educational environments. This also means there is no publicly available data about sexual assaults or other crimes taking place on campus, as is required of Title IX schools.

***

This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher.

 This is the end of part I. Part II can be found here. Below are pdfs of the four letters referenced above.
***
Image credits:
christendom sign: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Statue By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
regina coeli hall By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352616
student center By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49352611
front royal clock  Clevergrrl via FLickr
church By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
men’s dorm By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
seal By Niall ODonnell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons