The Rev. Bradley M. Schaeffer resigned from the Boston College board of trustees Thursday amid mounting criticism of the role he played in supervising a former Jesuit priest who allegedly molested dozens of children over 40 years.
As a committee of the Boston College board launched a review of Schaeffer’s role in the abuse scandal, he delivered a brief letter to board chairwoman Kathleen M. McGillycuddy announcing he would step down.
“As all in our community know, Boston College is a wonderful, caring institution of higher education,’’ Schaeffer wrote. “I do not want to harm it or be a distraction. Therefore, I am ending my service as a trustee today.’’
Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse, who staged a small protest against Schaeffer at the main gate to the BC campus Thursday, said they were heartened by Schaeffer’s resignation. But some faulted Catholic officials for failing to take action without outside pressure.
“This is a step forward, but real progress will be when Catholic officials, not public pressure, force those who ignore and conceal child sex crimes to step aside,’’ said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The Globe reported Sunday that Schaeffer had failed to stop Donald J. McGuire from sexually abusing boys while Schaeffer was his supervisor as the leader of the Jesuit province in Chicago. Despite several complaints from family members of alleged victims about McGuire’s behavior with boys in the early and mid-1990s, Schaeffer allowed McGuire to continue in ministry.
McGuire, who maintains his innocence, is now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison on molestation charges.
Schaeffer stepped down the same day that the Boston College independent student newspaper The Heights called for his resignation and a day after a group of faculty members met with Boston College president William P. Leahy to make a similar argument.
Susan Michalczyk, president of the Boston College chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said a group of faculty met with Leahy Wednesday and left with the impression that the university was not prepared to take action against Schaeffer, after Leahy cited a reluctance “to rely on sensationalist press’’ for information.
Jack Dunn, the Boston College spokesman, said Leahy was attempting to make the point that his office could not take unilateral action against Schaeffer without following a process laid out in the bylaws governing the board of trustees.
If Schaeffer had not resigned, it would have taken a two-thirds vote of the 53-member Boston College board to force him to leave, according to the Boston College website. Schaeffer’s term was scheduled to expire after a June 8 board meeting in Rome.
Schaeffer did not return messages from the Globe Thursday, but he previously issued a statement acknowledging he did not do enough to prevent McGuire from molesting boys when he was the leader of the Chicago Jesuits from 1991 to 1997.
“I deeply regret that my actions were not enough to prevent him from engaging in these horrific crimes,’’ he said.
After leaving Chicago, Schaeffer, 62, became the leader of all American Jesuits, the largest Catholic religious order in the United States and the world.
Schaeffer joined the Boston College board in 2006 and, two years later, moved to the Boston area, where he was named rector of the Blessed Peter Faber Jesuit Community by the leader of the Jesuit order in Rome. The Faber Community is a study center and residence for future Jesuit priests that is located in Brighton and affiliated with the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
Schaeffer is also a board member at three other educational institutions affiliated with the Jesuits: Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Loyola University Chicago; and Brebeuf Jesuit, a Jesuit prep school in Indianapolis.
A spokeswoman at Georgetown said that Schaeffer’s term on the board will expire in June and that, in the meantime, the full board “will determine how best to respond to these matters.’’ Matthew J. Hayes, president of Brebeuf Jesuit, said he could not comment because he did not know about Schaeffer’s resignation from Boston College until he was informed by the Globe.
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases and organized Thursday’s protest, said his organization would press for Schaeffer’s immediate resignation from the boards of the three schools and from his position as rector of the Faber Community.
In a letter to the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, the top Jesuit official in Rome, McKiernan demanded that Schaeffer be ordered to resign his posts at other schools, and at the Faber Community.
“It is crucial that the scholars and theologians of the Faber Community, who come from all over the world . . . see in no uncertain terms that the Society of Jesus does not tolerate abuse,’’ McKiernan wrote.
But last night, a spokeswoman for the Jesuit Conference of the United States said that Schaeffer will complete his term as rector, which runs until August. “The Society of Jesus is grateful for his service in this capacity,’’ she said.
In its editorial Thursday, The Heights said it “feels that inaction in this case would endanger the school’s reputation as one of the most prestigious Catholic institutions in the country.’’
On Sunday, the Globe reported that Boston College officials were defending Schaeffer because of his expertise in Catholic education and his contributions to the board and were not planning to take action against him. However, BC officials said they did not know about Schaeffer’s involvement in the McGuire case until informed by a Globe reporter.
During Schaeffer’s years as McGuire’s supervisor, the Globe reported, Schaeffer knew that McGuire had been diagnosed with a sexual disorder but nevertheless allowed him to resume a globe-trotting ministry in which he conducted spiritual retreats for the nuns working for Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
In 2006, a county jury in Wisconsin convicted McGuire of molesting two high school students. In 2008, a federal jury in Chicago convicted him of molesting a former eighth-grader who attended the Trivium School, a Catholic school in Lancaster.