On Tuesday, November 27, the Church in the 21st Century Center of Boston College hosted a discussion panel entitled “Why I Remain a Catholic: Belief in a Time of Turmoil.” This event sought to respond to the latest wave of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis which broke this past summer.
In August, a statewide Grand Jury released a report finding that over three hundred Catholic priests had sexually abused more than a thousand children over the course of a decade in the state of Pennsylvania. In addition, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July in the wake of mounting allegations that he himself had sexually abused minors and harassed seminarians over the course of his rise through the clerical hierarchy.
The discussion panel was moderated by Boston College alumnus R. Nicholas Burns ’78, who has served as the U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Greece. The panelists comprised four members of the Boston College community including theology professor Stephen Pope, Social Work professor Tiziana Dearing, graduate student Stephanie Sanchez, and undergraduate student Sean Barry. The discussion included a mix of testimonials, expressions of sorrow, and proposed solutions.
Asked “why stay Catholic,” the panelists offered a range of answers. Stephanie Sanchez answered emphatically that her faith in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ was the central reason. She stated that the basis of her faith is in her relationship with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, not in her relationship with the institutional Church. Professor Dearing cited the power of Catholic Social Teaching as the compelling force behind her choice to stay Catholic. Given the many charitable works which the Church performs, Dearing believes that the Church is an overall positive good for society. Sean Barry referred to his own experience of growth through coming to Boston College as a motivating factor for him to stay Catholic. He said that growing up, he found going to Sunday Mass to be a drag. But after coming to Boston College, something just clicked. Professor Pope was more hesitant in his answer. Despite being deeply scandalized by the abuse crisis, he offered a range of reasons for his continued membership in the Church including family affiliation.
All members of the panel shared the ways in which the abuse crisis impacted them personally. Professor Dearing shared how her experience of becoming a mother in the wake of the 2002 abuse crisis made the scandal more immediate to her. After this crisis, Professor Dearing also became the first woman president of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Charities. She noted that part of the reason she was offered the position was because the institutional Church recognized that increased female leadership was needed to recover from the abuse scandal. Professor Pope noted that the abuse crisis posed a theological problem for him. How does one find the face of Christ in an institution which had covered up such profound evils? Professor Pope made clear that this question was both academic and personal for him. Stephanie Sanchez expressed eagerness to help reform the Church. The crisis has motivated her to contribute her skills towards helping lead the Church out of the mess. Sean Barry commented on the challenges which the abuse crisis offered for men discerning the priesthood. Barry currently lives in a house of discernment for men aspiring to membership in the Jesuit order. The panel moderator, Ambassador Burns, expressed hope for the Church in light of the vision and personal investment of young people like Sanchez and Barry.