Faculty Panel Addresses Clerical Abuse

by David O'Neill


On Monday October 15, the auditorium in McGuinn was filled for a panel titled “Catholic Belonging in a Time of Scandal.” The panel was co-sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century Center, the Jesuit Institute, and the Theology Department. This panel consisted of Boston College Professors Stephen Pope, Marina McCoy, Richard Gaillardetz, and Kerry Cronin.

Professor Pope started the talk by laying out two goals: to promote understanding of the crisis and formulate a plan of response in its wake. He asserted that the sexual abuse scandal is “a scandal in the true sense of the word, it is an obstacle to the faith.” Following this, he cited the 2004 John Jay Report’s discovery that in the United States, 4,392 clergymen had been credibly accused of abusing over 10,000 victims. He also referenced the fact that the Church has paid $4 billion on abuse payouts since 1965.


Professor McCoy continued the discussion by explaining how she converted to Catholicism in the early 2000’s in the midst of the revelation of clerical abuse in Boston. So, she though she knew what she was getting into. Nonetheless, reading the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was deeply distressing to her, and led her to question “Why do I belong [to the Catholic Church], why do I want to be here?” She said that she looks to Christ in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. After being nearly pushed off a cliff by His fellow Nazarenes, Christ keeps going. He knew He was going to be incarnate in a deeply unholy world, and yet he still chose to do so. McCoy discussed the righteous anger of Christ, that His anger towards sin is borne out of a desire for the individual and community to be better. She discussed how we need to bring anger to God in prayer, and also realize each of our own sinfulness. She concluded by saying she stays in the Church because “I am weak, needy, and sinful. I need the sacraments of the Church to heal me, reconcile me. I need the human community to hold me when I am weak, and scripture to teach me.”


Next, Professor Gaillardetz discussed his response to the scandal. He stated, “to belong to a religious community is to consent to be troubled by the community.” Gaillardetz suggested this troubling could be the teachings of the Church, which challenge our way of life, and call us to ask tough. However, he described the abuse as troubling in a different way; to be troubled by the failures of the community to live up to what it preaches. He concluded by giving the analogy of a restaurant. Gaillardetz asked the audience to imagine a restaurant with great food and an amazing chef. This is the Church, and the chef is God. However, the chef’s employees, the waitstaff (the clergy) is “snotty, occupied with status, and they’re not quite sure why the chef invited you.” The chef “isn’t real thrilled with the crew, but it’s the best he has.” We come for the food and for the chef, not the waitstaff. Similarly, though we certainly should desire holy clergy we should remember that we are not Catholic because of the pope, or bishops, or priests. We are Catholic because it is here where we are served the best food by the greatest of chefs.

Professor Cronin discussed how she was raised Catholic and has always practiced Catholicism, but the revelations from this past summer made her “completely depressed.” She acknowledged that if this is how it affected her, what the victims go through is mind-boggling. Cronin is concerned about “triumphalism” in responding to the crisis with many writing “I knew I was right about celibacy, homosexuals in the priesthood, or women’s ordination.” The crisis has led her to acknowledge how “clericalism isn’t just about the people in power, I have to realize that clericalism is my fault too.” She discussed how she helps at her parish but has often done so begrudgingly. “How many times have I thought to myself, can’t Father just do this?” Moving forward, she acknowledged that belonging to a religious community is about “finding other people who are willing to ask the questions you are asking, and also where you find the answers. She said the Mass, the Rosary, and reading scripture all take her out of “the daily grind of shallow, ordinary questions.”


Following the panel, the room was opened to questions from the audience. More attendees had questions than there was time to answer, showing the commitment that many have to addressing the crisis.


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