Xavier High School reached out to students, parents and alumni in the wake of the release of the names of Jesuit priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. Photo: Courtesy of Xavier High School
The sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church for decades has now reached two prominent Manhattan high schools.
A list naming Jesuit priests, who were identified by the Society of Jesus as having credible allegations of sexual abuse, was published on January 15, revealing that Regis and Xavier high schools were among the institutions where some of these accused priests spent parts of their careers.
The step toward transparency comes as the Catholic Church deals with new investigations by federal and state law enforcement. The release of the list has also forced local institutions to review how they communicate about the abuse crisis, especially when the accused were once a part of their community.
Out of the 50 men on the list made public by the Northeastern Jesuit Province, four worked at Regis between the 1950s and 80s, and seven worked at Xavier between the 1940s and early 2000s. One priest spent time at both schools.
The time the priests spent at either school varied, with some serving at the institutions for only a couple years and others for more than a decade. In some cases, priests had decades-long careers in which they spent time at several Jesuit schools in New York and the northeastern United States.
Many of the priests are now deceased, while some have been defrocked, have left the ministry or have been restricted from service involving minors.
Regis officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but provided Our Town with a statement.
“There are four men on that list whose allegations pertain to incidents while at Regis. There is also one man who is on that list who worked at Regis at one time and has an allegation against him from some later time and place,” the statement said. “No abuse is acceptable, and we are horrified and distressed by each one of these allegations. All victims of sexual abuse are in our prayers.”
The accused abusers and their tenure at the Upper East Side school include: John Farrand, 1957-61; John Gallen, 1957-60; Edward Horgan, 1954-57, 63-70; James Kuntz, 1983-84, 89-94; and Robert Voelke 1969-80. All but Kuntz (who pleaded guilty to a child pornography offense after his time at Regis and Xavier) are dead.
Officials at Regis have reviewed the school’s policies and continue to work to create a safe place for students, according to the statement.
As for Xavier, none of the accusations of abuse against the priests stem from their time at the Chelsea prep school, according to its president, Jack Raslowsky.
Raslowsky said the province gave him a week’s notice that Xavier would appear on the list, but he said he had been aware of some of the names on the list already. The priests include: Cornelius Carr, 1980-83; Thomas Denny, 1969-70; Raymond Fullam, 1946-48; John Garvey, 1989-2002; James Kuntz, 1971-74; Keith Picklers, 1984-87; William Scanlon, 1971-72; and Joseph Towle, 1960-63. Denny, Kuntz, Picklers and Scanlon are alive, according to the province’s list.
“In a word, it’s a horror,” Raslowsky told Our Town in a recent interview. He called the abuse crisis a failure in leadership, and a problem that encompasses the church at large.
Since becoming the first lay president of Xavier in 2009, Raslowsky has sought to change the leadership culture by embracing transparency and establishing strict policies that aim to protect students from abuse.
In anticipation of the province’s list, Raslowsky sent a letter to a network of 19,000 alumni, parents, past parents and other members of the Xavier community addressing what was to become public the following day.
“No one has been more affected by the abuse crisis than victims and their families. Recognizing and acknowledging abuse often takes many years and can involve a lifetime of healing,” he wrote. “It is hoped that the release of the names of those credibly accused will help the healing of victims. Their healing and the prevention of future abuse must be our first priorities in word, deed, and action.”
The letter provided the community with information about Xavier’s current policies and procedures regarding the prevention of abuse and harassment. In 2012, for example, the school hired T&M Protection Resources, a private security, intelligence and investigations company, to revise procedures and policies and help implement yearly training for the faculty and the students. An ombudsman oversees policies, training and investigations into abuse, harassment and bullying.
The letter, and a follow-up with a link to the list and information for survivors of abuse, prompted a broad spectrum of reactions from the Xavier community.
“There was a lot of support for Xavier. There was gratitude for the letter, gratitude for confronting it honestly,” Raslowsky said. “In some cases there was great distrust of the church.”
Raslowsky said many alumni had trouble coming to terms with the inclusion on the province’s list of John Garvey, who was at the school for more than a decade.
“Many of the other guys were older or were here briefly. They [the alumni] knew John. For those folks, John did some very good work and was well loved by many,” he said. “For many of those folks they begin to question their relationship, they question their experience, they’re hurt for John, they’re hurt for victims. There are a lot of complications there, but honest complications.”
The release of the list prompted one survivor of abuse a chance to share his story with Xavier leadership.
“I received one call from an alum who was the victim of abuse in 1961 by a lay person. We had a good conversation and he was relieved to tell his story,” Raslowsky said. “The person who committed the abuse is dead and has been for over ten years, and had been at Xavier for three years in that period.”
Following the publication of the list, Xavier hosted a forum at the school as well as a conference call for alumni and parents to voice their thoughts and feelings.
“It was very solemn; it was apparent those emotions were in that room, from dismay and disappointment to anger and frustration,” said Tom Weatherall, a 1986 Xavier graduate, who attended the forum. “I felt like there was compassion for the victims.”
Weatherall said Xavier was the place where he accepted his Catholic faith and felt that it was his own, rather than something given to him by his parents. So when the abuse crisis become apparent in the early 2000s, Weatherall said he felt anger, disgust and deep sadness, and frustration with the church for the broader hierarchy that covered up the abuse.
For him, the province’s release of the list and Xavier’s actions have been a welcome start toward healing. “I appreciated [Raslowsky’s] and the Xavier community’s openness and willingness towards transparency,” Weatherall said.
Paul Scariano, a 1990 graduate who has two sons enrolled in Xavier was proud and comforted by the way the school’s leadership handled the news. “My boys are aware of things. They talked about it in their religion class and were asked if they wanted to talk about anything,” said Scariano, who is also a member of the school’s board of trustee’s. “The administration got to the students in the right way.”
Scariano said Xavier had also been a place where he fit in well, and most others fit in well, and he thinks the school’s culture continues to be a place that values communication and openness with students.
“Everyone wishes the church was honest about it in the beginning. Now, I don’t know what else you can do but be honest about it,” he said.
For the church to move forward, Raslowsky said it needs to continue to be transparent and open about the mistakes it has made along the way. “Here at Xavier we’re a place where we give voice to different people. Power comes from that ... to raise questions about how the church is the best church it can be in terms of power and voice and authority and leadership,” he said. “We are one very little part of the worldwide church, but we get it right, hopefully it inspires other people to get it right.”