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photo of Regan, Leahy, Neuhauser and Newton in the President's office
BC to launch wide ranging study of issues raised by clergy misconduct
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President William P. Leahy, SJ, has announced plans for a "special academic focus" over the next two years to examine issues relating to the sexual misconduct scandal in the Catholic Church. The program, which will begin in the fall, will have the title "The Church in the 21st-Century."

"News stories in recent months have left many Catholics angry and confused, feeling betrayed, and asking serious questions about the meaning of their faith as well as their relationship to the hierarchy and the Church," Leahy said in an interview. "I think it is imperative for Catholics to engage in a process of prayer and reflection, but also to have serious discussion about significant issues facing them and the Church." Among these, Fr. Leahy said, are the Church's moral and ethical beliefs; the role of lay men and women, priests, and bishops in the Catholic community; and "the challenges facing Catholics in living their faith in our time."

Leahy has appointed Special Assistant to the President Robert Newton to direct the initiative. He will work with an advisory board of faculty, administrators, students, and alumni who will be named in early summer. "The Church in the 21st Century" will sponsor public lectures at BC and in other parts of the country; seminars for the campus community and alumni; "issue papers" by scholars and for the general public; and the creation of courses in areas such as ecclesiology and sexuality. Newton said the programs would involve scholars from BC and other institutions and leaders from all parts of the Catholic community.

"Our goal," said Newton, "is to increase understanding of the intellectual and moral foundations of Catholicism, eliciting the views of laity, priests, and bishops. As with other crises in the long history of the Church, this one can be an opportunity for renewal, and Boston College has the resources to play a significant role in helping that happen."

John Neuhauser, BC's academic vice president, noted that "while some have called for Boston College to take a stand on matters concerning the Archdiocese of Boston, that would be inappropriate for us. We are a university, and our responsibility is to offer intellectual discourse, inquiry, and debate about the issues. And we will do so." Alumni Association Executive Director Grace Cotter Regan '82 believes that "the forum will be of great help to alumni. They are looking to Alma Mater for assistance and guidance these days."

"The Church has been deeply wounded by this scandal," Fr. Leahy said. "Healing requires not only work of the heart but work of the mind." The president noted that it is "a responsibility of the Catholic university to help bishops, priests, and laity understand the complex issues they face and to learn from one another. Boston College can be a meeting place and an intellectual resource for these needed conversations."

The president's announcement came four months after the first media reports of clerical sexual misconduct. While no victims have come forward from the faculty, staff, or student ranks, and no BC priest has been named as an alleged abuser, the unfolding story has had an effect on the campus. "Catholic faculty and staff are saddened, apprehensive for the future, angry at how the Church could let children be hurt. It's pretty much reflective of the mood in Massachusetts," said Stephen Pope, chairman of the Theology Department. Theology professor Fr. Michael Himes said that his students "are obviously disappointed and distressed, but they are not astonished at the sexual misconduct. What outrages them most is the cover-up."

Panel discussions on campus have featured BC experts and members of a newly-formed organization of Boston area priests.

Ben Birnbaum

Photo: Regan, Leahy, Neuhauser, and newly named program director Newton in the President's Office.



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Inside the storm—
The Church in Crisis
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. . .
  »  Special coverage from the Boston Globe
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  »  Special coverage from the National Catholic Reporter
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  »  Homepage of the Archdiocese of Boston
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  »  A report from the Boston Priests' Forum
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  »  Homepage of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group responding to the crisis
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  »  Alberto Godenzi on his appointment to the pedophilia task force
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