Announcement regarding former Georgetown Provost, the late J. Donald Freeze, S.J.
June 11, 2021
Content Warning: This message contains information and discussion of clergy sex abuse and other topics that may be difficult or upsetting. Individuals are encouraged to reach out to the University for support and to be mindful of their own self-care.
Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:
I am writing today to share actions taken in response to experiences shared with us by a former undergraduate student relating to deeply troubling and unacceptable behavior by the late J. Donald Freeze, S.J., who served in a variety of roles on campus, including as Provost from 1979-1991, and who was awarded an honorary degree in 1991.
I established a Working Group of the Board of Directors to oversee the University’s response. I join the Members of the Working Group in sharing the update below to the University community.
We are writing today to share actions the University is taking relating to deeply troubling and unacceptable behavior by the late J. Donald Freeze, S.J.
While this behavior—which involved non-consensual kissing and touching—occurred more than 30 years ago, it is particularly egregious due to Fr. Freeze’s role as both a member of the clergy and as our former Provost. We wish to acknowledge the courage of an alumnus in coming forward and to express our distress at the experiences that he has shared and the abuse of power that occurred. The Working Group of the Board of Directors was charged to address these allegations and advance our work with the regional province of the Society of Jesus (now the USA East Province) which assigns Jesuits to serve the Georgetown community. The Working Group, in collaboration with the alumnus, has helped to strengthen the work with the Province to ensure transparency and information-sharing between our institutions.
With the concurrence of our Board of Directors, Georgetown University expresses its deepest apology and has revoked Father Freeze’s honorary degree as well as all other university-sanctioned recognitions.
In partnership with the alumnus and as part of our ongoing work to prevent and address sexual misconduct, we have engaged the USA East Province, which has now committed to readdress and strengthen its policies and processes for sexual misconduct perpetrated against adults, and to more fully share with Georgetown information regarding sexual misconduct of any kind.
We see these steps as the continuation but not the end of our work, and we are committed to continuing to partner with the alumnus to ensure that not only University policies but also Province policies are as strong as possible in supporting survivors. We will also continue our response to the clerical sex abuse crisis, hosting public convenings and conversations that build awareness and supporting research into the effects of clerical sexual abuse on survivors and how to improve screening and assessments of candidates for the seminary.
The safety of the Georgetown community is our first priority. In the years since Father Freeze was Provost, we have implemented strong policies and procedures to provide support for sexual abuse survivors, including survivors of clergy sex abuse, and programs to safeguard our community from sexual misconduct of any kind by any member of our University.
We are grateful to the alumnus who came forward with his experiences and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any clergy abuse. Campus Ministers and members of the Society of Jesus play a unique and trusted role in our community. We must continue to create a trusted environment that encourages survivors to come forward and provides them the best possible resources and support.
We understand that this information is deeply upsetting and we would encourage members of our community to reach out for support. We encourage all members of our community to report sexual misconduct and use the resources of the University to obtain support. Individuals can also report sexual misconduct by a Jesuit by contacting the province’s victim advocate at email@example.com.
Georgetown remains deeply committed to preventing and responding to sexual abuse and to protecting the most vulnerable among us. Our community has and will continue to be built on care and trust, as well as accountability and action.
John J. DeGioia, President, Georgetown University
Bonnie W. Gwin, (F’82, MSFS’83), Member, Board of Directors Working Group
Tyree P. Jones, Jr., (L’86), Member, Board of Directors Working Group
Thomas A. Reynolds III, (B’74), Chair-Elect, Board of Directors, Member, Board of Directors Working Group