Sex abuse crisis can lead to conversion church needs, theologian says

Catholic News Service

Nov. 26, 2019

By Matthew Gambino

Since the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church broke open in 2002 in the United States and intensified globally last year, responses to it have focused on legal matters and administrative reforms.

But theologians and other faithful thinkers are focusing now on a higher dimension, and the question of where God is calling his people at this moment.

Villanova University launched the first in a series of four conferences on the theological perspectives of the sexual abuse crisis Nov. 1. Some 20 Catholic scholars from around the world heard a dozen presentations on the topic in a daylong seminar, according to Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli, a lead organizer of the series.

In a keynote talk to cap the first conference, Father Richard Lennan said the long-term response of the Christian community to the crisis should be an inner conversion of heart and fearless self-criticism — and not only among bishops and clergy, but all members of the church.

A professor of theology at Boston College and a priest of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in Australia, he told 25 people, including scholars and visitors from the community, why conversion is critical at this time.

“A theological response to the abuse crisis recognizes that (it) is not simply an issue of governance, formation for ministry or pastoral practice. The sexual abuse crisis gnaws at the faith,” he said. “It casts a pall of suspicion over belief in a capacity of any human instrument, let alone the church, to mediate grace.”

Lennan found in the working document of the recent Synod of Bishops for the Amazon a three-point formula that he believes may serve as a road map for the church’s conversion. A process of unlearning, learning and relearning can facilitate a renewed openness to grace and conversion.

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