Jack Dunn
Director of Public Affairs
(617) 552-3350


Boston College forum addresses key issues facing the U.S. Catholic Church as it seeks renewal following clergy abuse crisis

CHESTNUT HILL, MA -- Some of the most pressing issues facing the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the clergy sexual abuse crisis were addressed at a major public forum at Boston College, part of the University's nationally noted Church in the 21st Century initiative.

The September event -- titled Toward Renewal: What Have We Learned? Where Are We Going? -- focused on a range of critical topics, such as the restoration of trust and credibility in the Church, the role of the laity and of women, issues of sexuality and the passing of the faith to the next generation.

Moderated by NBC News Senior Vice President, Washington Bureau Chief and "Meet the Press" Moderator Tim Russert, the event -- which drew several thousand attendees to BC's Conte Forum, and countless others who viewed the proceedings via a web simulcast -- featured a panel discussion among a number of distinguished speakers, including:

Rev. Bryan Hehir, President, Catholic Charities, USA
Peter Steinfels, New York Times Religion Columnist
Sr. Mary Johnson, SND, Sociology and Religion Studies Professor at Emmanuel College; co-author of Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice
Catalina Montes, Principal, Thomas Gardner Elementary School, Allston, Mass.

Two Boston College students, junior Patrick B. Downes and senior Elizabeth M. Palhaus, also participated in the discussion.

Opening remarks by Boston College President Rev. William Leahy, SJ, described the
scope to date of BC's Church 21 initiative, which has focused its lens on the roles of lay men and women, priests and bishops in the Church, on the conveyance of the faith to succeeding generations, and on sexuality in the Catholic tradition and contemporary culture.

"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," Fr. Leahy said. "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."

Several of those issues, from sexuality to celibacy to the male priesthood, were on the table at the Church 21 opener.

Russert gauged panelists on the centrality of Sunday Mass to Catholic faith and experience. Sister Johnson described the clergy gap the declining number of priests has caused in American parishes and in Latin America, where a growing number of poor have come to be disenfranchised from the sacraments.

Discussion of opening the priesthood to women and married men drew applause. So, too, did Fr. Hehir's call for an open and informed discussion of potential Church reforms at a time when vocations are in decline and a growing number of parishes are without priests. "We've got to treat adults as adults in the Church," he said.

Renewal and hope were the overriding themes of the evening, however.

"The Church has been hit by a hurricane," said Montes, an allusion to Hurricane Isabel. "We cling together. We wait together. We pray together," she said. "People need to hear the word of God, keep moving forward, and be a community, working together."

Panelists later said they had found the evening's exchange inspiring.

"It was a spiritual experience for me," said panelist Patrick Downes. "It was rewarding to speak my heart, and have people come up to me and say they had re-examined their faith that night and strengthened it."

Downes also echoed the description BC Campus Ministry Director Rev. James Erps, SJ, gave of the event: "a moment of Grace."

The event marked the one-year anniversary of "Church 21," aimed at examining the root causes of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and providing a forum and resources to assist the Catholic community in seeking renewal. In announcing the initiative, Boston College became the first university in the nation to publicly commit its academic resources to a long-term response to the crisis. During the inaugural year, Boston College hosted 75 events that attracted more than 13,000 attendees.

To learn more about the Boston College Church in the 21st Century initiative, or to view the public event on-line: