Basilian Father Thomas Rosica during the concluding session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 2014. CNS photo/Paul Haring

St. Michael’s scandal a humbling experience for Basilian Fathers

By 
  • November 28, 2018

As the Basilian Fathers await announcement of an expert panel to investigate the culture and policies that may be factors in a sexual assault scandal at St. Michael's College School, the priests are praying for the victims, their families and the community they serve.

“How do we pray in the midst of all of this? First of all, we pray in utter humility,” Basilian spokesperson Fr. Thomas Rosica told The Catholic Register. “The deeper question is what has our influence done or not done with these students?... If we have been unaware of this for a long time, how is that? How can that be?”

The Board of St. Michael’s is expected to soon announce an expert panel to investigate the culture and policies that may have contributed to the scandal. Rosica expects the expert panel will release a preliminary report early in the new year and “a much deeper report” later on.

Rosica praised the Toronto Police Services and local journalists for their thorough and professional work in uncovering what is known so far about a series of alleged incidents recorded on at least six videos which have circulated among students and on social media. Some of the videos constitute child pornography in the judgment of Toronto Police. 

As the Basilian spokesperson throughout the process, Rosica has fielded hundreds of calls and emails from journalists all over North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere.

“Without that pursuit of truth, we would not know it. Some of the journalists — excellent journalists in Toronto and the editors and the hosts on television — have done a superb job,” said Rosica.

Not that the spotlight on the 166-year-old school, which was the first project which the French order of priests took on in North America, has been comfortable.

“We are faced with humiliation and we are being taught, forcefully, what it means to be humble,” Rosica said.

As the owners of the private, all-boys school, the 147 Basilian priests are determined to face up to their responsibilities and find a way back to their roots in Catholic education, said Rosica.

“Our Basilian motto — ‘Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge’ — is not something we emblazon on walls or wear on t-shirts and on mugs because it’s cute. But if we take that seriously we have to look at this crisis and say, ‘Where was the goodness’ Where was the discipline? Where was the knowledge?’ ” said the 59-year-old Scripture scholar and CEO of the Salt+Light Media Foundation

“If they were absent, then we have to make sure we inculcate those values into the students.”

Among the reforms on the table is the possibility of expanding the school’s board of directors, which currently consists of four Basilians and three lay people — two men and one woman. 

“I do believe we will make some changes in that regard by asking the board to increase membership on the board,” Rosica said. “Let that membership be lay, competent professionals. And let us have more women on the board.”

While many St. Michael’s students are able to attend because of generous scholarships, both the private school culture of wealth and privilege and St. Mike’s sports teams are bound to come under the microscope as a new leadership team under interim president Fr. Andrew Leung begins to form over coming weeks.

“When you have a culture of prestige, entitlement, clericalism — which is not just clericalism of the clergy, but especially in this case clericalism of the laity — when do you put an emphasis on accountability and transparency?” Rosica asked. 

“We are obviously not against good sports programs, but if we listen to Pope Francis when he talks about sports programs, it’s to produce leaders — not a sense of competition but of collaboration, bringing people together, providing other means for teamwork and team spirit. We have to look at all of the sports programs we have in our schools. And look at anywhere, at any situation, where students are belittled for any reason — because of their size, because of their weight, because of their intelligence, because of their orientation. 

“We must look at all of these things now. Nothing can be taken for granted.”

Speaking with The Register on the Feast of Christ the King, Rosica drew lessons from the Sunday Gospel which recalls the meeting between Jesus and Pontius Pilate — where Pilate represents the power and prestige of the Roman Empire and Jesus claims kingship over a kingdom that is “not of this world.”

“How have we modelled our system on a system of the world? And how have we failed to incorporate the vision of Jesus in this? The vision of Jesus who is always concerned with the downtrodden, with the poor, with those on the peripheries, those on the fringe, those who are not the star athletes? But they are the most important people in all of this. 

“If we’ve spent a lot of our time ranking success and prizes and privilege and all the wrong values, then we have to ask, ‘Are we of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom? Or are we playing into Pilate’s vision?’ 

“Pilate lived on the surface of things. And Pilate asked ridiculous questions. We need to ask deeper questions.”


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