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Late Georgetown provost accused of nonconsensual contact with student

Georgetown's president called the allegations "particularly egregious" because J. Donald Freeze had power as a priest and provost.
Image: Georgetown University
The campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., March 12, 2019.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

Georgetown University on Friday announced that a former undergraduate had accused late priest and Provost J. Donald Freeze of nonconsensual contact.

In a letter to alumni, the office of Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said that a group was investigating the claim regarding behavior more than three decades ago and that the university "expresses its deepest apology."

The institution described the allegations in factual terms but did not expressly say it has found them to be true.

"While this behavior — which involved non-consensual kissing and touching — occurred more than 30 years ago, it is particularly egregious due to Fr. Freeze’s role as both a member of the clergy and as our former Provost," the letter, also signed by three members of the working group, said.

The accuser wasn't named, but the letter said, "We wish to acknowledge the courage of an alumnus in coming forward and to express our distress at the experiences that he has shared and the abuse of power that occurred."

J. Donald Freeze was provost from 1979 to 1991 and received an honorary Georgetown degree in 1991. The letter said the degree and all other school "recognitions" have been revoked.

The university said it's working with USA East Province, the Catholic Church's Jesuit administration for most of the East Coast, to strengthen policies and procedures governing sexual misconduct.

"In the years since Father Freeze was Provost, we have implemented strong policies and procedures to provide support for sexual abuse survivors, including survivors of clergy sex abuse, and programs to safeguard our community from sexual misconduct of any kind by any member of our University," the school's letter said.

Freeze, who died in 2006 at St. Joseph’s University from Alzheimer's, taught Latin and French at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia before working at a number of colleges before arriving at Georgetown, according to the university student newspaper The Hoya.

In 1981, he presented British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with an honorary doctor of laws degree. The next year, he presented Mother Teresa an honorary doctorate of humane letters after she spoke on campus and urged students to "know the poor."

Freeze was named in a 1980s court challenge by the student Gay Rights Coalition as a member of an administration that refused to recognize the group as a campus organization. A District of Columbia appeals court judge ruled in 1987 that LGBTQ+ groups must essentially be treated by the institution as any other.

Years earlier Freeze persuaded Margaret Rockefeller Strong, granddaughter of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, to donate her family's Tuscan estate, Villa Le Balze, to Georgetown. He retired as provost in 1991 to run the student program there, The Hoya said.

In a description of his eulogy for Freeze, the publication said Rev. Aloysius Kelley recalled that "students who came to visit with Freeze in his room in Copley Hall often would stay there chatting until the middle of the night."

Megan Carpentier contributed.