While the prominent members of the province were engaged in orchestrating the sale, some Jesuits at the time helped some of the slaves escape during the sale and transfer.
Because of the scandal, Fr. Mulledy ended up resigning from his post as head of the order in the U.S., and was called to Rome to defend his actions to the superior of the Jesuit order or face dismissal. Fr. Mulledy was allowed to remain in the order, and was allowed to return to the United States in 1843, founding the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts upon his return and later serving a second term as the president of Georgetown University.
The report notes that while the sale was one of the best-documented of the time, due to the presence and transfer of sacramental records, many of the slaves were sold again, and their subsequent sales and transfer have made it difficult to find out the conditions that they lived in and the fate of them and some of their descendants.
Regardless of the state of the records, the report reinforced the brutal and dehumanizing reality of slavery in the early United States and explained that Georgetown University, the Jesuit Order, the city of Georgetown and many other early American Catholic figures all benefited directly from the institution of slavery.
The report also stressed the importance of wrestling with the truth of the university's history, as well as the moral implications of cooperating with the institution of slavery and its long-reaching consequences of structural injustice and racism that persist to this day – both within the Church and within society at large.
"Neither love for Georgetown nor any manner of local contextualization can begin to justify the actions that were taken," the report reads. "Indeed the early nineteenth-century context included less shameful, even good alternatives that were rejected and moral resources that were neglected."
"The opposition to the sale, the scandal it caused, and the abrupt resignation of Fr. Mulledy are a few of the indirect indicators of how real the other options for the Maryland province and Georgetown College were in 1838."
"In the face of such wrongdoing, contrition is imperative, and the goal of reconciliation – the healing of estrangement between people and the restoration of friendship – is indispensable," the report stressed.
These efforts for reconciliation and contrition are framing Georgetown's steps going forward, President DeGioia said. "We can be blocked by our past or we can be strengthened by recognition and reconciliation with it," he told the assembly of students, faculty, staff and descendants of the slaves sold.
The university's past, he said, should be seen as a "touchstone" as the school moves forward, along with the input from the descendants of people held by the Maryland Jesuits as slaves, to seek reparative justice and to repair the relationships within the Georgetown community.
DeGioia pointed to the example of St. John Paul II in "seeking forgiveness and reconciliation" as one model and resource out of many from the Catholic faith that the school will draw upon in continuing its steps towards reconciliation for its actions.
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Georgetown will also engage more deeply with modern issues whose roots are found in the institution of slavery.
While important steps forward, like the Civil Rights Act, have been made, DeGioia said, "we still live with the implications of the original failure to address the evil that framed the founding of our nation" as well as the continued discrimination of Jim Crow.
He pointed to gaps in life expectancy, health disparities, housing discrimination and disproportionate poverty rates affecting African American communities as part of this continued legacy of slavery in the United States.
This continued engagement with social issues and disparities impacting African-American communities is especially important for universities to grapple with, the president said, because of the American university's role in constructing the idea of race in the United States.
"Scholars of our universities had the effect of justifying the enslavement of our fellow human beings," DeGioia explained. "And while all of this may have happened two centuries ago, we live with the consequences today."
Thus, DeGioia stressed, the publication of the report and apology of the school "does not bring an end" to Georgetown's involvement in the issue but instead is "opening a chapter" of new involvement on issues of race and slavery's legacy.