Jesuit University Leadership and Corrective Action:

Taking Responsibility for the Sexual Abuse Crisis

Project Description

The general purpose of my research was to study who is responsible for responding to an institutional crisis. Specifically, I examined how one Jesuit university responded to the sexual abuse crisis. The eruption point of the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented these crimes was starting period of examination. I compared the University response to the principles of effective crisis communication, and then focused on the University response in relation to the concept of framing, public relations functions, and thinking through an organization’s mission and social legitimacy as a comprehensive approach that can help an organization properly address a crisis. The appeal of studying a religious-affiliated university is that it serves dual missions: as part of the larger religious institution and as a higher education institution. For this work I implemented a case study methodology using key informant interviews and university documents.


An institutional crisis occurs when individuals and organizations fail to perform the routines and roles that produce the collective interests and social order of the institution. The institution of the Catholic Church continues to endure a crisis of priest sexual abuse and those in positions of leadership covering up these incidents. Any organization within the institution could proactively decide that it must respond to maintain its credibility, while also helping repair the reputation of the institution. A response to an institutional crisis should be driven by an organization’s assessment of events as well as its mission, values, and sense of responsibility to its stakeholders. The response should also use the unique skill and resource capabilities of the organization. The university I studied demonstrated a focus on victims’ concerns from the religious mission perspective and is using its capabilities of amassing and disseminating knowledge from the higher education mission perspective. An organization’s mission cannot merely be an aspirational espousal, but rather has to manifest itself as foundational values displayed in real-time decision-making and implemented actions, especially during times of crisis. 

Further Reading

Fortunato, John A.. “Institutional crisis assessment and mission-driven response in practice: One religious-affiliated university’s response to the Catholic priest sexual abuse and cover up crisis.” Public Relations Review 47, no. 5 (2021): 1–10,

Fortunato, J.A.. “Crisis framing: One Jesuit university’s response to the Catholic priest sexual abuse and cover up crisis.” Journal of Communication & Religion, 45(4) (2023), 41-56.


Principal Investigator

John Fortunato

John A. Fortunato is a professor at Fordham University in the Gabelli School of Business, Area of Communication and Media Management. He teaches courses in sports media, digital media marketing, sponsorship, and crisis management. Dr. Fortunato is the author of five books, including Commissioner: The Legacy of Pete Rozelle, Sports Sponsorship: Principles & Practices, and Making the Cut: Inside the PGA TOUR System. He has published more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. His articles have appeared in Public Relations Review, Journal of Sports Media, Journal of Sport Management, International Journal of Sport Communication, Journal of Brand Strategy, and multiple law reviews. Dr. Fortunato received his Ph. D. from Rutgers University in the School of Communication.