Shame: Fordham Releases List of Abusive Priests


Many of the accused priests lived in Murray-Weigel Hall for years. (Courtesy of Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram)

By Collin Bonnell

On Jan. 15, the Office of the President sent out an email containing a “Joint Message from Fordham’s President and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees,” concerning the list of Jesuits accused of sexually abusing minors released earlier that day by the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus. The email contained the names of nine Jesuits who had ties to Fordham University and Fordham Prep, and the allegations against these priests reveal a pattern of gross negligence by various parties, including Fordham University, Fordham Prep and the Northeast Province of Jesuits, which endangered members of the Fordham community.

Mirroring a larger trend within the Catholic Church, these priests, whose affiliations with Fordham University and Fordham Prep span six decades, were moved around after accusations against them arose and shifted to different positions so as to not draw public attention. The story of one of the accused, Rev. Peter Conroy, S.J., exemplifies this trend.

According to an article by WKBW, Conroy was accused of groping two female minors in the mid-1970s while employed by Fordham University. Conroy left Fordham after the events took place and was sent to Canisius College, where he became Director of Campus Ministry. The Jesuit remained at Canisius until 2002, when the Buffalo Diocese was informed of the allegations and Conroy was then moved to the Jogues Retreat Center near Poughkeepsie, where he is still a priest and, despite the allegations against him, remains in close proximity to the laity.

While the revelations concerning Conroy are troubling, the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Fordham and two other Jesuits on the list, Rev. Roy Drake, S.J. and Rev. Eugene O’Brien, S.J., were sufficiently incriminating to push two activist groups—the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and—to accuse Fordham Preparatory School of sheltering child molesters in 2008.

The first of these priests, Drake, a former science teacher at Fordham Prep, was accused of raping the friend of a Fordham Prep student while on a ski trip in 1968. That year, Drake left Fordham Prep, but later returned to Fordham as a resident of Murray-Weigel Hall, until he was sent to a “treatment center” for troubled priests in 2006. The church has refused to offer Drake’s accuser an apology.

The other, O’Brien, served as the president of Fordham Prep from 1960 until 1979 and allegedly molested a minor in the early 1970s. O’Brien returned to Fordham in 1986, when he joined the staff of the university, where he would remain until 1991 and during which time he served as vice president for community relations.

Although both Fordham University and Fordham Prep are named as parties in a 1997 legal settlement in which several Jesuit groups gave $25,000 to O’Brien’s accuser; they have declined to comment on the event in the past. The administration’s failure to be open with the Fordham community about the allegations against O’Brien is detestable. After the settlement, O’Brien continued to serve as president of the Gregorian University Foundation in New York until 2002, and was later sent to the same retreat center as Conroy.

The email also named Rev. John McCarthy, S.J., who was accused of abusing minors in the 1970’s yet continued to work for the University until 1992. Others mentioned include Rev. Philip Sunseri, S.J., who lived in campus residence halls from 1983-1986 and is currently enjoying a sunny retirement in California; Rev. William Scanlon, S.J., who was affiliated with the University in the 1970’s; Rev. John Bellwoar, S.J., who was affiliated with Fordham Prep from 1936-1938; Rev. Maurice Meyers, S.J., who was affiliated with the University from 1951-1959 and from 1973-1974 and Rev. Francis X. Nawn, S.J., who was affiliated with Fordham University from 1980-1981.

While it is reassuring that the administration informed the Fordham community of the accusations against these priests, it is important to point out that the list provided is incomplete. When releasing their joint statement, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. and Robert Deleo decided to omit any mention of Rev. Cornelius Carr, S.J., a Jesuit who was accused of molesting a minor in the 1970’s and spent his last days as a resident at Murray-Weigel Hall, and Fernand Beck, a lay religious studies teacher at Fordham Prep who was fired in 2016 when allegations that he had raped a student in 1984 resurfaced. Beck’s victim alleges that he informed headmaster Neil McCarthy of the incident a few months after it had occurred, and that McCarthy not only dismissed the allegation, but used the occasion to call the victim a slur. The omission of any reference to these incidents reflects the administration’s continued failure to be honest with members of the Fordham community about the current crisis.

Additionally, while the email alluded to the formation of a new “Advisory Committee” of lay trustees to review allegations against Jesuits here on campus, previous attempts to stop the current crisis of sexual abuse by members of the clergy via internal reforms have failed, this new committee may amount to little more than smoke and mirrors.

The statement also appeared to blame the Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus, which governs Murray-Weigel Hall, for housing Jesuits who had been accused of abusing minors in a building situated on a college or high school campus and is situated directly across from 500 Fordham Road—a building housing six high schools attended by students whose families presumably did not receive the email.

Although it is important to note that the letter says Fordham recently pressured the Northeast Province to remove all male residents who have been the subject of “credible” accusations of sexual misconduct, this concession begs an important question. If the administration was concerned about the housing of several priests accused of sexually abusing minors at Murray-Weigel Hall, why did it continue to encourage college students to volunteer at the building without informing them of allegations against many of the retired Jesuits they served?

While reading the email I was ashamed to discover instances, such as that mentioned above, of blatant disregard for the safety of students which my university displayed in the past. For decades, Fordham was one of countless bodies within the Catholic Church which decided to ignore and indeed facilitate a growing crisis concerning the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. Opportunity after opportunity presented itself for Fordham to intervene in the crisis by reporting the accused to the authorities, separating them from the laity and informing those of us who trusted them of this grave crisis. Yet at each and every opportunity, Fordham failed us.

Yes, the administration’s decision to inform the Fordham community of the release of this list is a step in the right direction, but it by no means excuses its gross negligence. Nor does it excuse the fact that we have been systematically misled by both the Church and the university for decades. The current moment is not one of the hope invoked in the letter’s closing. It is one of shame.


Collin Bonnell, FCRH ’21, is a history and theology major from Hingham, Massachusetts.