Former Yale adjunct professor Jaime Lara, who taught at the Divinity School and the Institute for Sacred Music for over a decade, sexually abused minors when he served as a priest in the Catholic Church from 1973 until his removal in 1992, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed on Thursday.
In the 25 years since his removal from the church, which the diocese hid from the public until last week, Lara has become a renowned scholar of sacred art history, writing five books and winning prestigious awards and fellowships. He served as a professor of Christian art and architecture and chair of the program in religion and the arts at Yale from 1995 to 2009 and also taught at the University of Notre Dame and Columbia University. Since 2013, he has served as a research professor at Arizona State University in the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. After learning of Lara’s history of sexual abuse, Arizona State officials requested he resign, effective immediately, The Arizona Republic reported.
“My heart sinks every time I see or hear a new disclosure [of sexual abuse] because I know that behind each disclosure is a shattered life. Only yesterday, I learned that a former faculty member here had a history of abuse in the life he led before serving on the faculty. I wish we would never have to deal with these issues, but such a wish is naive,” wrote Dean of the Divinity School Greg Sterling in an email to the Divinity School community on Friday. The email did not mention Lara by name.
At least five of Lara’s alleged victims have applied for compensation from the church. Ricardo Gonzalez, who received compensation after he alleged that Lara had sexually abused him from the age of eleven until high school, told The New York Times on Thursday that he called institutions where Lara worked to tell them about Lara’s history of sexual abuse but that no one believed him. The University declined to comment on whether it was alerted to Lara’s past history of abuse during his tenure.
Richard Mammana DIV ’12, who has friends who took Lara’s classes, said he had heard that Lara had “boundary issues” but that none of his friends reported any “abusive or overtly sexual” behavior from Lara. Katey Zeh DIV ’08 told the News that since the news of Lara’s history of sexual abuse broke, she has read posts on social media from former classmates who said they had “unusual” or “creepy” experiences with Lara.
One of Lara’s students in the Institute of Sacred Music, Benjamin Straley MUS ’10 DIV ’12, said that Lara made some “questionable comments” to him. Still, he called Lara a “wonderful lecturer and teacher” who was beloved by the institute community.
“Clearly, we are all saddened and shocked by these recent revelations and concerned for all those affected,” Straley said.
Director of the Institute of Sacred Music Martin Jean, declined to comment.
Zeh said that she and several former Yale Divinity students were troubled by Sterling’s failure to mention Lara by name in his email to the Divinity School community, and a number of individuals have already written to Sterling and other Divinity School officials to express their concerns. Another former student is drafting a letter that will express concern over the University’s response to the news and that can be signed by past and present members of the Divinity School community, Zeh added.
“I think that an institution like Yale has a responsibility to specifically call out and name perpetrators, particularly if they’ve been somehow complicit in that abuse or silent about that abuse,” Zeh said.
Zeh said that she and her friends and colleagues from the Divinity School are currently discussing how it should correct what she called an “inadequate response” to the news of Lara’s sexual abuse of minors. She and other alumni determined that the Divinity School should conduct an external review of how Lara was hired, since his hiring put Yale students “at risk unnecessarily.”
Michael Lally DIV ’18, co-coordinator of the Roman Catholic Fellowship student group, said that, though he found the news about Lara “deeply disturbing,” he believes that it will prompt the Div School community to confront “these societal, systemic problems of sexual abuse and harassment.”
“I have no doubt that Yale Divinity School can and will continue to form students who will enter careers of religious ministry, service and study and will actively work to combat these dehumanizing evils present in all aspects of our culture, including in religious institutions,” Lally said. “My classmates have a passion for justice, truth and love that is unrivaled, and they will seek to combat and end cultures of abuse wherever they find them.”
The Yale Divinity School Women’s Center will hold an event titled “#HereToo” on Nov. 28 at which students testimonies regarding sexual misconduct and gender discrimination will be shared to boost awareness about sexism at the divinity school.
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