BY JACK CONNORS,
early days of this calendar year, when the abuse scandals first
appeared in the news, I was asked by a reporter if my faith had
been shaken. I answered him then as I tell you now: It has taken
me 60 years to get my faith where it is today, and it is unshakable.
I did not come here this evening to dwell on the past. I have been
openly critical of the manner in which the Archdiocese of Boston
has handled the sexual abuse of young boys. The leadership of the
archdiocese made a conscious decision to protect priests who were
preying on innocent children over a period of many years. Those
Church leaders who have made a series of bad judgments may continue
to hold onto their titles, but they will be leaders in title only.
A majority of Catholics are moving forwardwitness this crowd.
Our Church is 2,000 years old, and, like most things that have been
closed up for a long time, it's gotten a little stuffy in here.
When theologians are silenced, when innocent priests are ousted
without an opportunity to defend themselves, when the laity is kept
from substantive participation, the Church fails to pursue the truth.
We need to open the windows. We need to let some fresh air in, and
we need to stop sweeping our secrets under the Orientals.
We need to listen to the priests, the pastors, the nuns, the brothers,
those on the front line. We need to hear the faithful. We need to
close the one-way streets and build two-way streets. The Church
exercises great power, but that power must be directed to serving,
teaching, and healing, as opposed to intimidating or silencing.
Those in power need to be more thoughtful about dealing with those
who have little or no power. We must create a culture of freedom.
I'm reminded of the often-quoted scene from the movie A Few
Good Men, where Tom Cruise, playing Lieutenant J.G. Daniel
Kaffee, faces off against Jack Nicholson, playing Marine Colonel
Nathan Jessep. "I want the truth," Cruise yells. "You
can't handle the truth," Nicholson fires back. Well, I believe
we can handle the truth. Our Church has survived 2,000 years of
good times and bad, of saints and sinners, and I believe there is
no problem we cannot resolve if we, the leadership and the laity,
work together honestly and in the spirit of the teachings of Jesus
Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Leadership does not
When I was growing up in nearby Roslindale, I studied the Baltimore
Catechism in Sunday school at the Holy Name Church in West Roxbury.
In the Baltimore Catechism, the definition of the Church is very
simple. It says the Church is the congregation of all those who
profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same sacraments, and
are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head. In
short, the Church is the peoplethe congregation of all those
who profess the faith, you and me. It is not a building. It is not
a piece of real estate.
was also taught that the mission of the Church is to serve, not
to be served. Perhaps the most powerful example is in the Gospel
of John when Jesus washes the disciples' feet, and he says, "I
have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
I tell you the truth. No servant is greater than his master, nor
is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." My heart
aches for the 98 percent of the clergy who have been wounded and
embarrassed by the acts of a minority. The best of them are exemplified
by a quote from Fr. Peter Knott, an English Jesuit and past chaplain
at Eton, about 20 miles west of London: "Some may think of
a priest's work in terms of what can be measured by attendance at
Mass and the number of people knocking on his door. In fact the
real value of the priest is something hidden and has more to do
with the kind of person he is rather than anything that can be quantified.
Nothing much happens most of the time. He's just around, available,
trying to listen. For a priest there is no such thing as success.
Success belongs to the world of sport, to banks, and to business.
It has no place in the precincts of the sacred. The priest is sowing,
never reaping. So there can be no trophies. His work is to plow
the furrow, open up the earth to the seed, trusting that in God's
good time the harvest will come in. This is the poetry and privilege
of the priesthood."
Coming from the world of business, I think in terms of goals and
objectives and strategies. One very simple goal, a goal that reflects
Fr. Leahy's decision to convene these sessions, is to make the world,
your world, our world, a better place, with justice and kindness
toward all. We need to get back to work. But we need a model for
the leadership of the Church and the members of the faithful to
use as a basis for working together.
Let me offer one for your consideration. There was once a 110-year-old
Catholic institution that served its local community very well.
Governed by the clergy, with no lay representation, its endowment
was $4 million. In 2002 that same institution continues to serve
its community. Only now, that community has grown to include the
entire United States and several foreign countries as well. Today
it is governed by 42 trustees, only eight of whom are clergy. Its
endowment has grown from $4 million to $1.1 billion, and it has
become one of the premier Catholic institutions in America. That
institution is Boston College. For the past 30 years, this University
has been governed by a predominantly lay board of trustees, who
were given the opportunity to share their expertise to help the
University become more successful. Does anyone believe that Boston
College was better off in the 1950s? Does anyone believe that it
is less Catholic today? Does anybody believe that its impact is
smaller? I would suggest that this 30-year work-in-progress provides
all of the data we need to model our future journey.
To adapt this model of governance within the Church would, I believe,
transform the Church's ability to carry out its mission in modern
society. It would not be us versus them, it would be all together,
for the greater good. This needn't seem a painful necessity. Rather,
it should be viewed as an opportunity.
I once heard a distinguished Jesuit speak of the autonomy of nature.
We're all familiar with the power of nature. We all know "that
which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
We all know water runs downhill. When a child is born, in addition
to the pleasure parents reap, a mother and father also have the
responsibility to protect and raise that childto feed it,
to nurture it, to clothe it, and to teach it, understanding that
someday the child will leave and have a life of his or her own.
If a parent imposes too many restriction, or is otherwise overbearing,
that child's development into adulthood could well be impaired.
Control, at a certain point, is unhealthy.
The Church, or at least some of the hierarchy, is trying to effect
too much control in too many instances. We need to trust. We need
to respect. And we need to allow people to exercise good judgment
so that people can learn. Maybe they will make mistakes. But one
of the best ways to grow is to learn from our mistakes. It is the
autonomy of nature.
At a Sunday service this summer in Brewster, on Cape Cod, a priest
said during his homily, and I'm paraphrasing, "You and others
like you have been listening to me give homilies for 45 years. It's
time for you to take back your Church. You sit and you listen. It's
time for you to stand up and to speak." I heard this as a call
for help. As the Church moves forward, some very difficult decisions
have to be made. The world has changed. If the Church's mission
is to serve, then the Church must change as well. The Church needs
to decide how we will replenish the ranks of our seminarieswhom
we will select and how we will train people for the priesthood.
The Church needs to decide about more meaningful roles for women.
Making difficult decisions is the first responsibility of leadership.
A few months ago I received a powerful letter from a parish priest.
He shared with me how difficult his vocation had become. He wrote,
"It's not easy being a priest today, then again He never said
it would be, did He? It wasn't easy for Him. Look at what He had
to put up with. And didn't He promise much the same for those who
would follow in His footsteps? Who was it that said that we're not
expected to love suffering but we are expected to love Christ's
suffering, and that the value of the cross isn't measured by what
we see of it, but what we bear of it? Easy to say, hard to live."
Our faith has lasted 2,000 years and today we, you and I, are its
stewards. We are the future. I am passionately optimistic that we
can build a better Church, a more effective Church, in the 21st
century. A Church that rejects the arrogance of power and embraces
humility. A Church that welcomes new thinking. A Church that is
accountable and a Church that will have more than enough resources
to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, treat the
elderly with dignity, and help the poor and the innocent. It's time
to get back to work.
A trustee of Boston College, Jack Connors, Jr. '63 is founding
partner, chairman, and chief executive officer of the marketing
communications firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc.
Photos: Jack Connors, Jr. '63 (top) and audience member. By Lee