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