BC President: Church Crisis Raises Other Issues
Church Must Face Other Problems to Flourish, Leahy Says [Boston MA]
September 19, 2003

BOSTON -- The president of Boston College says the clergy sexual abuse scandal awakened other church issues that must be addressed if the Catholic church in the United States is once again to flourish.

"After more than a year of listening, programs and activities, we have learned a great deal about the state of the Catholic Church in America," the Rev. William P. Leahy told an audience of about 2,500 at BC's Conte Forum on Thursday night.

"It is evident the problem of sexual abuse by priests and bishops, and its toleration at the highest levels, have brought into public view issues that have been simmering below the surface for many years."

Leahy said it has become clear to him that many Catholics, especially women, are unhappy with their roles in the church. Also, there is a broad gap between the sexual behavior of Catholics and the sexual ethics preached by the church.

Leahy also said that in the past year, the church's position as a moral and social force in this country has been damaged.

Leahy's address was part of BC's "Church in the 21st Century" program, which was launched one year ago Thursday. Over the last year, BC has drawn an estimated 13,000 people to 75 events examining various facets of the contemporary Catholic Church.

At a forum earlier in the day, the head of Catholic Charities USA the Catholic Church should learn to treat its followers as the informed, intelligent people they are.

"This is the most educated laity the Catholic Church has ever had. Men and women are working in corporations and politics. They're in charge of their lives," Hehir said. "But they're not treated as adults (by the church)."

Mediated by NBC "Meet The Press" host Tim Russert, the discussion focused on reconnecting Catholic leadership with the laity and restoring credibility and trust in the church following the sex abuse scandal that ultimately forced the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law as archbishop of Boston.

Other panelists and audience members said it's time to start discussing the ordination of women as priests, a possibility the Vatican has refused to consider.

"This should not be a closed issue, which it is right now," said Sister Margo Shea of Boston, who attended the forum. "It's not even supposed to be discussed in a public forum like this."

Peter Steinfels, a religion columnist for the New York Times, noted that women were ordained in the early days of the Catholic Church.

"For a church as tradition-minded as ours, it's something you could begin with," he said.

Jack Connors, chairman of the BC Board of Trustees, alluded to new Archbishop Sean O'Malley and the $85 million settlement reached with 552 clergy sex abuse victims.

"Much has changed for the better," Connors said. "Only the most optimistic could have imagined the enormous progress we have seen in the first 100 days of our new archbishop."


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