Laity Have a Role in Fixing Church

By Robert W. Oliver
Boston Globe
March 6, 2004

AMID the reactions to the reports on sexual abuse released last week, many calls -- often strident -- have been heard for greater lay involvement in the Catholic Church. Many are asking: "Will the Archdiocese of Boston respond?"

I began wondering about the chances of seeing a "news flash" that would begin with the Archdiocese of Boston announced today that . . .

Eight laywomen and laymen will serve as a review board, reviewing every complaint of child abuse and advising the archbishop on all aspects of these cases. Board members have expertise in psychiatry, psychotherapy, clinical social work, law, investigations, and nursing.

A laywoman has been elected chairperson of the review board, having served previously as the chief justice of the Probate and Family Court and as chair of the Judicial Conduct Committee of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A laywoman, who is a trained and experienced canon lawyer, has been appointed delegate for investigations and will oversee the investigation of all complaints of child abuse. She has retained the professional investigative assistance of several laymen and women.

A laywoman, a licensed and experienced social worker, has been appointed director of the Office for Pastoral Support and Outreach, to provide pastoral support, outreach, and referrals for professional assistance to persons abused as children and their families. She will be assisted by several licensed social workers and psychologists.

A layman, previously a regional director of the Department of Social Services with 38 years of experience in child welfare, has been hired by the Office for Child Advocacy. He will assist in oversight of the implementation of all safe environment programs and in fostering collaboration with civil authorities concerning the protection of children.

Eight laymen and women have volunteered for the Implementation and Oversight Advisory Committee, which evaluates all prevention and education programs, develops future programs, and expands partnerships with public and private professional organizations. Among the committee members are the deputy commissioner of DSS, the director of the Child Protection Institute, the executive director of the Children's Trust Fund, and a former secretary of Health and Human Services and First Assistant of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

More than 3,300 laypersons have given courses on child abuse and safe environments to more than 60,000 adults and children. Over 2,000 of these laywomen and men -- including nurses, educators, psychologists, and physicians -- will serve on the Child Abuse Prevention teams established in every parish or cluster of parishes in the archdiocese, assisting any person in reporting suspicions of child abuse or neglect to civil authorities, ensuring that archdiocesan policies are implemented, and advising parishes on strategies to prevent child abuse.

A layman, with experience in commercial banking and sales management, will oversee all financial matters related to child abuse, including financial reports, budgets, and statements. Fifteen laypersons will serve on the Archdiocesan Finance Council, many of whom are chief financial officers in the public sector and each with expertise in such fields as investment, law, securities and exchange, real estate, and banking.

The truth is, of course, that a news flash is not needed. These laywomen and laymen have been serving in these capacities for many months. They are the people who have come forward over the past two years, offering their time and service during a most difficult time in the life of the church.

It may be worth asking why those who decry the clericalized church seem not to notice.

We are witnessing a most remarkable flourishing of lay involvement in the church, an event that is being welcomed, encouraged, and promoted in the Archdiocese of Boston.

To borrow from the motto of the Christophers, is it not better "to light a candle" in a time of darkness to become part of the solution?

Robert Oliver is a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston and a member of the Brotherhood of Hope.


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