FRONT ROYAL – Christendom College alumni John Connolly, Class of 2008, has blasted his alma mater, the school president and board of directors regarding past failures and current direction in response to recent revelations about issues surrounding reports by female students of sexual assaults and date rapes by male students at the conservative Catholic college.
Connolly took the opportunity of “Requests and Inquiries of Council Members” during the February 12 meeting of the Front Royal Town Council to express “disappointment in the organization” of Christendom College, located on Front Royal’s east side. That disappointment was directed at, not only the revelation of past administrative inaction surrounding sexual assault and rape reports dating back as far as 1999, but at the intention of then and still Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell to remain in that position; as well as the apparent willingness of the Christendom Board of Directors to allow him to do so.
As first reported in the Northern Virginia Daily and then other local media outlets including Royal Examiner, in early-and-mid January Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher published a two-part account of the stories of two former Christendom female students, one named and one not, about their experiences of sexual assault or rape by male student boyfriends. But most troubling for many, including John Connolly, was the description of what appeared to be an uneven and ineffectual handling of the women’s reports of these crimes to the school administration. See related story here
In an initial response, O’Donnell alleged “misleading information and serious inaccuracies” in the Simcha Fisher blog posts, but then went on to apologize to past victims of such incidents within the Christendom student body. In a subsequent response Christendom Executive Vice-President Kenneth Ferguson promised the school would do better in the future and offered to meet with student victims, past and present. Ferguson even thanked Simcha Fisher and her husband Damien for shedding light on the problem.
“We have failed some of our students,” O’Donnell admitted in the second response.
For John Connolly that was not enough.
“I attended the school from 2004 to 2008 and have been involved in the school in some capacity or another for 14 years. It is the lack of response and support for victims that is a heinous scandal and open sore for years that remains. It is not lightly that I must express my disappointment with the gross lack of responsibility and accountability in the college that has been uncovered through the many heart-rending accounts by victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape at the school,” Connolly said in opening his remarks.
The Christendom Advocacy & Support Coalition formed in support of student victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape by fellow students confirms 18 known cases between 1999 and 2016, but adds it believes there to be more. On Monday night, Connolly agreed with that assessment, saying following the meeting he believed there are more victims coming forward in light of the recent publicity.
Pointing to 1999 as a point at which Christendom’s administration became aware of the early reports of such criminal incidents involving students, Connolly noted that the school did not develop even “a rudimentary policy to handle sexual assault cases until 2013. The lack of institutional response is stunning, especially for an organization that has long prided itself on having a sacred bond between students, their families and the college,” Connolly continued in reading from a prepared statement.
He said as he watched the situation evolve over the past three to four weeks he had “truly hoped the leadership of the college would hold the administration accountable for its failures.” However, Connolly said subsequent comments in the media attributed to the chairman of the school’s board of directors “indicate otherwise” as far asking for Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell’s resignation.
“I firmly believe that this permanently erodes any vestige of trustworthiness for the college and will likely destroy the college’s viability as a place of faithful Catholic higher education in the future,” Connolly said in a scathing appraisal of his alma mater.
“If he truly loves the college, he must step down,” Connolly said of the school president. He added that failing a voluntary resignation, “the Christendom Board of Directors must save the college by making that decision for him.
For the rest of our local community, I invite you to join me and everybody who has been concerned to see this issue in lifting our thoughts and hearts in prayer for the victims and for the college to find the guidance to act with justice,” he concluded of Christendom College’s path forward.
However, one person of influence in the Christendom community does not agree with Connolly’s assessment of the questions raised by the Fishers’ blog “Are Students Safe in Christendom’s bubble?” Anne W. Carroll, widow of Christendom founder Warren H. Carroll, sent a letter of support of O’Donnell’s continued leadership of Christendom to alumni on February 8, four days before Connolly made his public call for O’Donnell’s resignation or ouster by the school’s board of directors.
“Speaking as the person who intimately knew Dr. Carroll’s mind and heart, I know his support for Dr. O’Donnell never wavered and never would waver. It would not waiver now,” Christendom’s founder’s widow wrote. Mrs. Carroll credited O’Donnell with continuing her husband’s vision for the school and urged an outpouring of alumni support for the Christendom president.
“Dr. O’Donnell’s profound Catholic faith, his sincere love for his students, his commitment to Christendom’s goal of restoring all things in Christ, and his brilliant leadership has made Christendom what it is today. I can only hope and pray that he is able to lead Christendom for many, many more years because that is exactly what Dr. Carroll would want … Christendom College is a premier educational institution. But far more than that, it is a living Christendom – a place where Christ is King, it would not be so without Dr. O’Donnell. Therefore Timothy O’Donnell deserves the undying gratitude of all of us who love the college,” Mrs. Carroll concluded.
We now know that at least one alumni not directly impacted by sexual assault in the Christendom community, along with many who were, do not agree with Mrs. Carroll’s assessment.
As the debate continues, one is left to wonder whether in Mrs. Carroll’s opinion as her husband’s vision for Christendom College was expanded into the 21st Century, would Christ have directed more time and effort into protecting those most vulnerable and victimized among his flock than some believe Timothy O’Donnell did over the past 19 years?