The recent arrest of former St. John’s employee Rev. Charles Plock served as shocking news to the St. John’s community.
The charges against Plock – that he allegedly sent lewd videos to what he thought was a 13-year-old boy – left many feeling outraged, disgusted, and perplexed.
But I’ve been more perplexed with the response from administrators and the University in general, which has been tight-lipped in issuing any statements or giving out factual information to its student body regarding the Plock incident. Granted, the University did issue a brief statement to the media on the day the story broke, acknowledging the arrest of “a St. John’s staff member” and maintaining that it would be “inappropriate for the University to comment any further at this time.”
And that statement, made on the same day as the arrest, was entirely understandable. As Dominic Scianna, vice president of Media Relations, informed me, the University never wants to put out any information that may not be 100 percent accurate, and on the day of the arrest, there are still details that are up in the air.
But nearly a week went by without an official statement from St. John’s to the student body and other members of the community.
According to administrators, an internal message was sent out by University President Rev. Donald Harrington on Wednesday, Oct. 15, to other administrators and staff.
The following day, Rev. James Maher, vice president of Student Life, issued a statement on St. John’s Central to the entire student body.
In his statement, Rev. Maher calls the ordeal “very sad and depressing news,” and provides three numbers for students to call if they need any counseling.
This was the only official announcement the University issued to students regarding Plock, and, though well-intentioned, it lacked one important element that students may have wanted: information on what had happened.
By revealing such little information to the community, the University essentially left students and faculty members on their own to find out the story through either word of mouth or the media.
Rumors, especially, took root very soon after Rev. Plock’s arrest. For example, some friends of mine had heard that Rev. Plock had been arrested for taking videos with 13 year old boys; I overheard others who thought that Rev. Plock had touched someone; and still others came to me thinking he had downloaded child pornography.
Of course, not everyone I knew had the story so blatantly wrong. But there were enough false rumors out there to be a concern.
By not issuing its own statement informing the community what happened, St. John’s created a vacuum, one that allowed for both fact and fiction to mix together.
I can’t help but wonder why Rev. Harrington – our University president and the face of St. John’s – did not make an official statement regarding the incident, giving students the facts behind what had happened and explain how the University was responding.
With a staff member like Rev. Plock – a person who worked closely with students in organizations such as Campus Ministry and who was a recognizable character on campus (frequently seen wearing a backwards cap and smoking a cigarette) – the University should have made some sort of statement to its community, to not only inform us, but to quell the rumors that had surfaced immediately following the incident.
The leaders of this University missed an opportunity this past week to do just what they’re supposed to do: lead.
With no informational statement to its student body, and a noticeably absent response from Rev. Harrington, St. John’s left many students perplexed over what really happened.
Perhaps this will serve as a learning experience for the University, a lesson on the importance of completely open communication with all members of the St. John’s community.
And, given some of the false rumors I’ve heard about Rev. Plock lately from misinformed students, it’s a lesson definitely worth learning.