P. LEAHY, SJ
From Crisis to Renewal: The Task Ahead, marks the beginning
of Boston College's initiative, The Church in the 21st Century. All
of us know how devastating sexual misconduct by priests and bishops
has been to victims and their families, the Catholic community, and
wider society. So many have been left confused and angry, feeling
betrayed, and asking serious questions about the Church and their
relationship with the hierarchy. In response to the scandal and to
the wounds it has caused, especially in the Catholic community, I
announced in mid-May that Boston College would undertake a special
academic initiative during the next several years. I did so for three
reasons. First, the current situation calls for healing; and healing
requires not only work of the heart, but also work of the mind. As
a Catholic university, Boston College has a special responsibility
to help the Catholic community and wider society better understand
Catholic perspectives on critical societal problems, and also to assist
the Catholic Church in appreciating and responding to contemporary
issuesdoing so is part of our mission. Second, Boston College
has scholarly and pastoral resources that can assist lay men and women,
priests, and bishops engage the complex issues facing them, and help
them learn from one another. Third, Boston College can be a meeting
place, an intellectual and religious resource that can assist in the
revitalization of the Church and individual members of the Catholic
Church in the 21st Century program is intended for the Boston College
community, BC alumni and friends, the Catholic community of Boston
and beyond, and for all people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are
concerned about the present crisis in the Catholic Church. Our initiative
will focus on three broad issues: on the roles and relationships of
lay men and women, priests, and bishops, and how to enhance them;
on sexuality in Catholic teaching and in contemporary culture; and
on the challenge of living, deepening, and handing on the Catholic
faith to succeeding generations.
Obviously, Boston College alone cannot resolve all the hurts and challenges
facing the Catholic Church today, nor does it seek to supplant bishops
or others in the Church who must eventually respond to pressing issues.
Our initiative intends to be respectful of the Church and its teaching
and tradition, to strive for balance and fairness, and to promote
healing and understanding in the Catholic Church.
I realize that at times our initiative may generate disagreement and
controversy, but faithful Catholics hold different opinions about
many important matters, and it may well be at times that views and
positions will be controversial or disputed. Should that happen we
need to remind ourselves that Boston College, as a university, is
committed to open discussion and to the objective consideration of
the wide variety of opinions that can be reasonably argued.
Our approach is based on the conviction that the essence of a university
is the search for truth, and that in the end truth will prevail. At
Boston College, this search for truth is enriched by the acknowledgement
and exploration of spiritual and religious truths influenced by our
Jesuit Catholic educational and religious traditions. Stated simply,
we seek to link faith and culture, especially the Catholic Church
and American society.
Finally, I want to say a word about goals. The Church in the 21st
Century initiative seeks to engage issues and topics critical to the
healing and vitality of Catholics in the United States in the aftermath
of the sexual abuse crisis. All should contribute to that task, but
it is especially urgent that younger Catholicsso often enthusiastic,
generous, and interested in volunteer service and in the spiritual
lifebe enlisted in the renewal of the Church. Much of the future
of Catholicism is in their hands, but younger Catholics need the inspiration
and encouragement of older Catholics who know, appreciate, and practice
their Catholic faith. Our goal is to help Catholics become more informed
about core teachings and traditions of the Church, and clearer about
what they believe and the reasons for their beliefs. This educational
and religious effort should enable them to live up to the demands
and responsibilities of their faith more authentically and effectively.
initiative seeks to help revitalize the Catholic community to move
from scandal and crisis to renewal and greater hope. Offending priests
and bishops betrayed their commitment to the Church and to Catholics
who trusted them. Church leaders made serious errors in the way they
dealt with victims, their families, and abusers. Trust between lay
men and women and the hierarchy has been severely eroded in recent
months. And many priests who have served faithfully all their lives,
especially those in parishes, feel beleaguered and discouraged. Trust
must be restored and accountability ensured.
Part of our initiative will focus on the reinvigoration of parish
lifefor example, by striving to develop model structures and
practices that are built on trust and accountability, and that encourage
and support the talents and responsibilities of laity, priests, and
bishops. Many lay men and women want to use their gifts to help the
Church, and we need them to do so, just as we need priests and bishops
to live up to their responsibilities and commitments.
The challenge for us is to renew our vision: a vision built on trust
and accountability, a vision nurtured by faith, knowledge, and conversationfaith
in God as revealed in scripture and human experience; knowledge of
basic Catholic teachings, beliefs, and tradition; and conversation
with people of both similar and different perspectives.
I know that these goals and other needed steps will not be realized
without a commitment to dialogue, a willingness to seek forgiveness
and healing, prayer and study, and leadership from laity and clergy.
But I also know that during the past 2,000 years, the Catholic Church
has adapted and changed to meet a variety of challenges. So as we
strive to heal and to think and act anew, we must recall that God
does not leave us orphans and that the Spirit is moving among us always.
Tonight is a beginning, and much needs to be accomplished. I remain
confident that together we can help renew the Catholic Church and
the Catholic community in our day.
William P. Leahy, SJ, is in his seventh year as president of
Photos: William P. Leahy, SJ (top) and audience members. By Lee Pellegrini