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Church in Crisis

Jesuit president: ‘The Spirit hasn’t deserted the church today’

The president of Boston College sensed -- early on in the unfolding events of the current crisis in the church -- that any number of people, including alumni, friends and trustees of the university, were wrestling with serious questions and concerns.

At the same time, Jesuit Fr. William P. Leahy, now in his sixth year at the helm of the 139-year-old Jesuit institution, took seriously the responsibility of Boston College to help the church deal with some tough issues. So, in consultation within the university-wide community, he committed the school to at least a two-year exploration of various points of views and perspectives.

“First there was the shock,” he said during an interview a few days after the opening of the “Church in the 21st Century Project.” He wondered, “How could this be occurring? How could priests be doing this, especially to young kids?

“There was also,” he said, “a sense of confusion because there didn’t seem to be any ready answers. Then there came anger. Now where people are -- at least the people I talk to -- they are focused on issues of trust. Accountability also comes up, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. What’s our church going to be?”

To that question Leahy has a clear answer. “We are a Catholic university, and as a Catholic university there’s a special role that we have in the church and in the larger community,” he said. “The idea of a meeting place is very strong for me, and as a Catholic university we can help the church not only understand issues within the church, but also within the wider culture.”

Leahy observed: “Clearly there are individuals who don’t understand what the church teaches, or they think it’s so limiting. Others don’t want to listen to viewpoints that members of the church have. What we have to do is learn how to be more effective in communicating what the church is teaching over the tradition and the centuries,” he said.

“One of the biggest issues that we face is that we have people who have their own particular concerns, whether it’s on abortion, birth control, divorce and remarriage, civil rights or social justice,” Leahy said.

“But the church has a much broader view. The challenge for the church is how do we have unity about basic beliefs and yet respect individual differences.

“The more we can get together and talk about various perspectives, feelings, beliefs, the better,” he said. “I am very confident that the Spirit is with us. The Spirit hasn’t deserted the church today. I think we can work through a lot of these issues.”

-- Chuck Colbert

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002