AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The fallout from the priest abuse report is spreading across Catholic schools in Pennsylvania. Officials at the University of Scranton, King's College in Wilkes-Barre and a Pittsburgh-area high school have announced that buildings once honoring now-disgraced church leaders will be renamed. And at least two other Pennsylvania schools are considering taking similar steps as the child sex abuse scandal forces a reexamination of once-hallowed figures. Reporter Bobby Allyn reports from Scranton.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: In a letter to students and faculty, University of Scranton president Scott Pilarz said as a way of showing, quote, "sympathy for and solidarity with" victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Scranton, the names of three bishops will be removed from buildings. None of the three are Jesuits, but the religious order has been hit with its share of sexual abuse accusations. For the Jesuit school, that means new names on new signs. Plaques will be taken down. Maps will be reprinted. And honorary degrees will be revoked from the three Scranton bishops who are accused of concealing widespread child abuse.
ADAM PRATT: I don't think it's being disrespectful to the church or anything like that.
ALLYN: Adam Pratt is a history professor at the school.
PRATT: What these men have done is beyond the pale.
ALLYN: He's encouraged the university was the first to confront the Pennsylvania attorney general's grand jury report. But he says, hopefully renaming the buildings is...
PRATT: Part of a healing process and, you know, coming to a reckoning that I think is an important thing that we need to do as a community.
ALLYN: As we were talking outside of the university's history department building, Pratt's colleague walked over to us to amplify what Pratt was saying. His name is Jeff Welsh. He's also a historian.
JEFF WELSH: We're going to take away that recognition and recognize people instead who really have made a positive step forward for the Catholic Church. I think that's great.
ALLYN: Welsh notes that it was not accidental that a building once dedicated to a disgraced bishop will now be named after an Australian nun who herself blew the whistle on a priest who was abusing children.
Among students and faculty milling about the sleepy campus a week before fall semester kicks off, it was hard to find anyone who didn't praise the school for taking an early stance on the Pennsylvania report, like Laura Freedman, who will be a senior this year at the University of Scranton. She's Catholic like most students here and was relieved to hear that the names of the accused bishops will be leaving campus.
LAURA FREEDMAN: We're just happy that we're actually taking a stand on it and not just letting it, like, slip under the rug kind of and trying to ignore it.
ALLYN: Ignoring it is what professors here are strenuously trying to avoid. Since the grand jury report was publicly released last week, Welsh and other professors have been racing to update the upcoming semester's coursework and holding 11th-hour meetings on how to teach the ugly findings of the nearly 900-page document that has battered the Catholic Church far beyond Pennsylvania.
CHRIS HAW: I'm rethinking how I'm going to start this semester just in light of what's happened in the past two weeks.
ALLYN: Theology professor Chris Haw says now with three notable bishops being symbolically expelled from campus, the report has acquired new urgency for his students.
HAW: Our department has already started exchanging some emails about what we are going to do, perhaps on day one naming this elephant in the room.
ALLYN: Haw hopes the school's self-reflection doesn't end with new building names. He says holding public forums could be productive for members of the campus community who feel unresolved about the decision.
HAW: In cases like this, some people want to become very defensive and maybe sort of trenchantly defending the church when so many other people are saying, this is not the time for you to be defensive. We need to be ventilating this big time right now.
ALLYN: A spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton released a statement that didn't take a position on the renamed buildings directly. Instead, the diocese spokesman said the church supports helping survivors of abuse and their families achieve healing. The University of Scranton's administration would not agree to interviews. But in his letter to faculty and students, the school's president said he hopes the decision will start the, quote, "long but hopeful process to rebuild trust and find peace." Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Scranton.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOONLIT SAILOR'S "A WEEK WITHOUT SUNLIGHT")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.