BC SealBoston College Magazine Fall 2003
current issue
features
prologue
Linden Lane
Works and Days
Letters to the Editor
BCM Home
Archives
Contact BCM
Coming Events
. Prologue
.

Listening post

.

What we've learned

By william p. leahy, sj

After more than a year of programs and activities sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century initiative, we have learned a great deal about the state of the Catholic Church in the United States. The problem of sexual abuse by priests and bishops--and its toleration at the highest levels--has brought into public view issues that have been simmering below the surface for many years. Among these are the gap between Catholic teaching on sexuality and the practices of many Catholics; the discontent among many priests and laypeople, especially women, about their roles in the Church; and a deep concern about how the faith is being handed on to the next generation.

We have also learned that while people's faith has remained strong, their confidence in the organization and episcopal leadership of the Church has been weakened by the crisis; that many individuals desire to help the Church in this time of need, but they want to be asked, and to be assured that their commitment and expertise will be incorporated into the structures and decision-making processes in ways that are more than symbolic. We've learned that our Church lacks structures for effective communication and dialogue among bishops, priests, and laymen and laywomen--structures that could have helped address the crisis in its early stages and that are essential for the renewal we seek and must have.

We've learned that, especially within the younger generation, the crisis has increased the tendency of many to make a distinction between their faith in Christ and their commitment to the institutional Church. We've learned too that faith and the commitment to social justice among young adult Catholics remain strong--but that, simultaneously, this generation's knowledge of the basic teachings of Catholicism, and its commitment to the Church as an institution, are far weaker than among previous generations of Catholics. What's more, many Catholics operate from an inadequate understanding of the Church's history and development during the past 2,000 years. While the fundamentals of our faith have not changed, the Church over the centuries has adapted its structures and approaches in response to new circumstances.

We learned that the tremendous moral and social force that the Catholic Church represents in American society, not only to the 65 million U.S. Catholics but to society in general, hasbeen damaged, resulting in a muting of the Church's voice on moral, ethical, and social questions, and in reduced financial support for the good work done in Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service agencies.

Another thing we've learned is that there are strong disagreements about the causes and means to resolution of the current crisis. Some insist that the cause is a failure of leadership and misuse of power in an increasingly dysfunctional organization out of touch with its members. Others maintain that the problem stems from a culture of dissent from official Church teachings. Those who blame the leadership and cite structural problems hold that the solution lies in reform of the organization--with more transparency, greater accountability, and more attention to equality of the baptized, whether bishops, priests, or laity. On the other hand, those who trace our current difficulties to dissent urge adherence to official Church teachings on faith and morals, as well as increased emphasis on personal holiness. We learned from listening to representatives of both of these positions that neither is completely correct, but that each contains an important element of truth and should be considered.

The crisis, painful as it has been and continues to be, provides an opportunity to stop and examine our Church, to bring into the light and clearer focus the important issues that face the Church at the beginning of this century--issues that must be addressed if the Church in the United States is to once again flourish.

Fr. Leahy is in his eighth year as president of Boston College.

. . .
  » 
. .  
  » 
     
  » 
     
  » 
     
 
» 
   
. .
. .
. .
. .


.    
  »
.    
  »
Alumni Home
BC Home