Courtesy Ye Domesday Booke McSorley, S.J.

The Rev. Brian McDermott, S.J., rector of the university’s Jesuit community, expressed sorrow and regret over the university’s release of private correspondence between Jacqueline Kennedy and the late Rev. Richard T. McSorley, S.J., last week.

McDermott, who sent a letter to Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy, said he felt the need to approach the Kennedy family after Lauinger Library allowed a collection of letters and diary entries between Kennedy and McSorley to be viewed by the press on Nov. 12.

The collection included diaries McSorley kept of conversations he had with Kennedy when he counseled her in early 1964 following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

The letters revealed that Kennedy had contemplated suicide following her husband’s death.

“[The Kennedy family] didn’t approach the university. We approached them,” McDermott said.

The papers have been closed to further access, and a decision has not yet been made on the future availability of the documents, cDermott said.

The Jesuit community had been unaware of the library’s decision to publicize the collection, McDermott said.

McSorley had left his papers to the Special Collections Division of the library after he died, but because of the Jesuits’ vow of poverty, the Jesuit community had co-ownership of any possessions left in a will.

The library was unaware that the papers were co-donated and did not know to consult first with the Jesuit Community, due to what cDermott believed to be a misunderstanding.

“The library had the sense that Fr. McSorley was the sole owner,” he said.

McDermott said that if the Jesuit community had been consulted, he would not have necessarily offered access to the not yet catalogued papers, due to the sensitivity of the subject.

“It’s the nature of the materials in this case. Those were confidential conversations. Parts of those conversations were written down . if I was aware of that I would not have offered access because I don’t think the public has the right to know everything,” he said. “I would want to respect the confidentiality.”

Lauinger Library had provided access to the papers when Thomas aier, author of the recently published book, The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings, came to discuss his book on campus. Collections which are not yet catalogued are usually not accessible to the public, but the library made an exception so that the viewing could coincide with Maier’s visit to campus.

According to Maier, the university allowed the collection to be publicized because they knew that McSorley had granted access to aier.

“It was very clear to me that Fr. McSorley had absolutely no problems with me or others seeing [the letters] . it was always clear to me that these papers were going to become public,” Maier said.

Julie Green Bataille, assistant vice president for communications, said that the university “meant no disrespect to any individual in making this information available. As a Catholic and Jesuit university we deeply respect the meaningful role that a priest can play in the private lives of individuals.”

McDermott is currently working with University Librarian Artemis Kirk to set down a series of protocols regarding donated material. Regulations of this type will help avoid future miscommunication over availability of collections.

But Maier expressed concern over the future accessibility of the documents.

“This is a very dubious decision that sets a very serious precedent regarding intellectual freedom,” he said. “I think it’s a very substantial issue of academic freedom here.”

McDermott said that there were conflicting issues regarding the future of the papers’ accessibility.

“I’m totally in favor of [academic freedom], but there are multiple values,” McDermott said. “It’s never simple.”

Prior to McDermott’s letter, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), told the Washington Post that he was “deeply disappointed that the privacy of communications such as these between a member of the clergy and his parishioner would not be respected.”

According to Maier, McSorley left the papers to the university, in part, for safekeeping after he realized that individuals had attempted to steal and sell some of the papers.

Other priests have criticized McSorley for even keeping notes of his conversations with Kennedy. The Rev. John Paris, an ethics scholar at Boston College, criticized McSorley’s decision to record the conversations.

“Everything that is said is said in confidence because the individual comes to you precisely because he trusts you to keep it secret, and these are committed secrets,” Paris told the Washington Post. “You’ve made the commitment prior to hearing it.”

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