Notre Dame, Georgetown Rescind McCarrick’s Honorary Degrees

Colleges join growing list of higher-education institutions that have already done so.

(photo: Notre Dame, Unsplash; Georgetown, Weerawich/Shutterstock)

The University of Notre Dame has rescinded the honorary doctor of laws degree it conferred on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2008, becoming the latest of a growing number of schools that have rescinded honorary degrees from the defrocked former archbishop.  

“The Vatican has announced the conclusion of the adjudicatory process against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, finding that he transgressed his vows, used his power to abuse both minors and adults and violated his sacred duty as a priest,” said the University of Notre Dame in a statement posted to its website on Saturday, the day it was publicly announced that McCarrick was laicized, or removed from the clerical state.  

“In accord with university president Rev. John I. Jenkins’ statement of Aug. 2, 2018, the University of Notre Dame is rescinding the honorary degree conferred in 2008.”

In August, Jenkins said that the school would revoke the degree if McCarrick were found guilty at the conclusion of his canonical process, but would hold off on a decision until that point.

McCarrick, who was archbishop of Washington until his retirement in 2006, was found guilty of charges of sexually abusing adults and minors, as well as soliciting sex from the confessional. Before his laicization, he was forbidden from public ministry and had been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance while the canonical process was ongoing. He is currently living at a friary in Kansas.

In July 2018, he resigned from the College of Cardinals after the Archdiocese of New York received two credible and substantiated claims that he had abused minors.

After these allegations were made public, it was revealed that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton in New Jersey had paid two settlements to men who had been abused by McCarrick when they were adult seminarians in New Jersey. More people came forward throughout the summer of 2018 to describe a culture of abuse and sexual harassment that permeated seminaries in New Jersey while McCarrick was the bishop of Metuchen and archbishop of Newark.

During his time as a bishop, McCarrick was awarded honorary degrees by more than 30 colleges and universities from around the world. Since June, a number of universities have rescinded honorary degrees they had conferred upon McCarrick.

His honorary degrees from Fordham University, The Catholic University of America, College of Mount St. Vincent, Siena College, University of Portland and University of New Rochelle were all rescinded in 2018 after he resigned from the College of Cardinals. Providence College has rescinded the degree it gave McCarrick in 1987. St. John’s University, which conferred an honorary degree in 1974, did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

Until Monday, the only other honorary degree that the University of Notre Dame had rescinded was one the school conferred on comedian Bill Cosby in 1990. The school rescinded the degree after Cosby was convicted on numerous sexual-assault charges in 2018 and sentenced to three to 10 years in prison.

In addition, Georgetown University announced on Tuesday that it would rescind the honorary doctor of humane letters the school conferred on McCarrick in December 2004.

“With the concurrence of our board of directors, Georgetown University is rescinding the honorary degree granted to Theodore McCarrick 14 years ago,” said Georgetown University President John DeGioia in an email sent to the Georgetown University community Tuesday.

This is the first time the school has revoked an honorary degree.

“We are called to forge a new culture, to create a context in which the most vulnerable among us will be safe and protected, to create a context in which the abuse of power can be identified and eliminated. As a university, founded in the Jesuit tradition, we are uniquely positioned to respond to this call,” said DeGioia.

Similar to the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University had elected to wait until the conclusion of the canonical penal process against McCarrick before making a decision about his honorary degree.

DeGioia’s email, forwarded Feb. 20 to CNA, explained that a working group was created in the fall of 2018 to “examine a range of issues related to honorary degrees.”

“The working group has welcomed input from members of our community, and its work has helped to shape our response today,” said DeGioia.

A petition spearheaded by Georgetown undergraduates requesting that the school rescind honorary degrees from both McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl garnered more than 1,300 signatures since it was launched in September. Georgetown has not revoked the honorary doctor of humane letters the school conferred on Cardinal Wuerl in 2014. Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation from the Archdiocese of Washington in October 2018.

Grace Laria, a senior at Georgetown who helped start the petition, met with the university’s working group, along with fellow Georgetown senior Julie Bevilacqua. The students urged the school to rescind the degrees.

In November, Laria and Bevilacqua spoke to CNA outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly. The two were there with several other Georgetown students who are active in campus ministry. Laria told CNA that she had been inspired to travel to Baltimore to demand that the bishops demonstrate that they “are willing to stand up for survivors and take action.”

Bevilacqua told CNA in November that she had been angered and hurt by the Church’s response to the sexual-abuse crisis and that she felt there was “a sense of urgency for some kind of action and for us to see some change.”