The Church in the 21st Century is a two-year project aimed at assisting the Catholic Church in exploring the issues emerging from the clerical sexual abuse crisis. University administrators say that by providing resources and a forum for discussion, Boston College can help the Catholic community transform the crisis into an opportunity for renewal.
Following the semester break, the program will resume on Jan. 16 with "Vatican II and the Contemporary Crisis in the Church," a lecture by Joseph A. Komonchak, a professor at Catholic University of America. Time and location will be announced at a later date.
Highlighting the spring semester will be a series of four seminars on the Catholic Church's teaching of sexuality. The first of those discussions will be held March 11 with Monan Professor of Theology Lisa Sowle Cahill, Prof. Thomas Hibbs (Philosophy) and Rev. Michael Himes, a professor of theology.
Since the opening Church in the 21st Century event on Sept. 18 at Conte Forum, Boston College has been a center of discussion on a wide range of topics affecting the Catholic Church. During the past three months invited scholars, priests, authors and journalists have come to Chestnut Hill to offer views on such subjects as pastoral care, church governance, child abuse, ethics and church history.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike have attended the events, some of them to overflow capacity. The initiative also has attracted considerable interest from the media, including writers from the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Times, Washington Post and various Catholic, religious and scholarly publications.
"The feeling in the advisory committee is that we have made a good start, but that we shouldn't be complacent," said Special Assistant to the President Robert Newton, a coordinator for the initiative. "As our understanding of the crisis and the underlying issues evolves, our programming has to develop and respond at the same pace."
Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn said, "The national attention that this initiative has gathered reflects the intense interest in the subject and the fact that no other university has chosen to address this difficult issue to the same extent."
Newton added, "One of our goals was to put as many people as possible in contact with the resources that are either on campus or that we can bring to campus. Many outside BC have told us that the initiative has provided a basis for hope in a situation that seems only to worsen."
Administrators say the project's World Wide Web site has served as both a bulletin board for upcoming events and a clearing house for papers, with links to other resources and video and audio files from key events.
Broadening Church in the 21st Century programming so as to appeal to a wider audience should be a priority, administrators say. While the initiative has drawn "a very committed crowd of people, who are very interested in these issues," said Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Rev. Joseph Appleyard, SJ, "we've noticed that the crowd aged 30 to 50 is missing. We had a good number for some events, but they have not been with us all the way through."
Newton cited a need to attract more undergraduates to events. "[They] are the future and our initiative has to address the issues from their perspective," said Newton, praising the contributions of UGBC President Adam Baker '03 and Grace Simmons '05, student representatives on the Church in the 21st Century Advisory Committee.
Office of Marketing Communications Executive Director and Special Assistant to the President Ben Birnbaum said the project should continue to seek fresh, challenging themes and subjects. He said one important task would be to collect and study data on Catholic sentiment toward the church.
"There is insufficient empirical data and one service we can provide is research," he said.
Fr. Appleyard said that Church in the 21st Century should address the spiritual needs of Catholics who have been hurt by the crisis. "We need to emphasize that the program is not just for the victims, but for everyone who has been affected by the revelations."
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