Gannon University’s Board of Trustees has voted to rescind all awards and honors given to Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman in the wake of his role in a sexual abuse scandal that dates back decades.
University President Keith Taylor, Ph. D., announced the decision Friday in a brief statement.
Taylor was not available for further comment.
“Each of us in our own way continues to reflect on the report of the grand jury investigation of decades of sexual abuse by clergy in the Diocese of Erie as well as attending to the surrounding events and discussions in the community and beyond,” Taylor said in his statement.
“Gannon’s Board of Trustees met last week in thoughtful dialogue to consider a University response and necessary actions to be taken.”
Taylor then said that the board voted to rescind all awards and honors bestowed upon Trautman, including the naming of the Catholic House and lecture series created in his honor.
Taylor said that he met with Trautman Friday and told him of the board’s decision.
One former resident of the Catholic House said that the name change doesn’t alter how she feels about living in the house.
Grace Dennis, a senior physician assistant major, said that Trautman wasn’t involved much in their lives while she lived there, and students still referred to it as the Catholic House regardless.
“I’ve met him a few times and he’s certainly a nice person, but there’s no excuse for his actions,” Dennis said.
“Had I known at the time that he had covered up so much sexual abuse within the church, I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a place under his name.”
Dennis said that even with Trautman’s apology, there are still actions that should be taken as repercussions.
“I support Gannon’s decision to remove his name from the house, the lecture, the scholarship, all of it,” Dennis said.
“I wouldn’t want Gannon to just let this go, action had to be taken.”
Dennis said she genuinely hopes Trautman can understand why Gannon took these steps.
“If not,” Dennis said, “I would think that shows he doesn’t understand the full extent of his actions and isn’t truly as sorry as he should be.”
James Slater, a senior business and theology major, commended Taylor in the actions of the university.
“I believe that to allow such a relationship to continue between a university that prides itself on its rich Catholic heritage and someone who has explicitly pushed this agenda of smearing that heritage through their actions of direct involvement in these coverup scandals, is infinitely and irrevocably detrimental to the image of Gannon,” Slater said.
Slater applauded Taylor, Bishop Lawrence T. Persico and Pope Francis.
“Despite my pain I feel as I read these incidents, I will never shy away from openly wearing my Catholicism on my sleeve,” he said.
The Knight was unable to contact Trautman, but in an article published by the Erie Times-News, Trautman characterized the Board of Trustees’ action as “shameful and shocking.”
Trautman told the Times-News that current Persico, who also serves as the chairman of the Board of Trustees at Gannon, never invited Trautman “to appear before the board to answer any questions about my handling of predator priests.”
Trautman, 82, was bishop of Erie from 1990 until his retirement in 2012.
On Aug. 14, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro published a grand jury report concerning sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
The report followed an 18-month investigation into thousands of alleged instances of abuse spanning several decades.
The report had identified 41 offenders from the Erie diocese, including lengthy accounts of what is called three “examples of institutional failure,” referencing to the cases of the Rev. Chester Gawronski, the Rev. William Presley and the Rev. Thomas Smith.
Trautman’s response to the grand jury report said that he did not condone or enable such abuse during his tenure leading the Diocese of Erie.
Trautman noted that he established guidelines in 1993 regarding how to deal with sexual abuse.
He later established the Diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth in 2003 to protect children from sex abuse.
Regarding the previously mentioned three “examples of institutional failure,” Trautman said he removed each of them from ministry and had each one laicized.
He took these priests out of active ministry as new allegations arose while he was bishop.
Trautman said that from the beginning, he had been trying to correctly handle all improper conduct with children that occurred before he became bishop.
“From the day I took office as Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, I did my best to correct the sin of sex abuse,” Trautman said.
“I personally met with and counseled abuse victims. I removed 16 offenders from active ministry.”
In a statement Trautman released at the time his response to the Grand Jury was made public, he said the actions he took “are not the actions of a Bishop trying to hide or mask pedophile priests to the detriment of children or victims of abuse.
“I did not move priests from parish to parish to cover up abuse allegations or fail to take action when an allegation was raised. A close reading of not just my response, but of the grand jury report itself, demonstrates this. “There simply is no pattern or practice of putting the Church’s image or a priest’s reputation above the protection of children. The many victims whom I personally counseled will surely attest to this. I stand on my record.”
Trautman’s official response to the grand jury stated that his actual record demonstrates that the allegations levied against him in the report “lack a legitimate basis in fact.”
In November 2012, Gannon renamed a building at 306 W. Sixth St. the Bishop Donald W. Trautman House in honor of his retirement.
The house had been previously called the Gannon University Catholic House.
It includes six apartments where Gannon students who want to focus their living and learning on the Catholic faith can live together.
On Friday, Gannon restored the original name of Catholic House and replaced the sign in front of the building.
The lecture series began three years ago and involved one lecture a year on Catholic issues with speakers who would come to Gannon and host it.
The “Feed My Sheep Award” is given to one who “exemplifies Christ, the Good Shepherd, in words and deeds, through joyful outreach, as expressed in the Gannon University Community.”
The statement that the university released Friday said that, on behalf of Gannon, Taylor joined the Board of Trustees “in continuing to affirm our commitment to the well-being of our students, our employees and alumni and to our Catholic tradition.
“That tradition compels us to give voice to victims and to provide for the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”