National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 24, 2003

'We won't accept anything less than adult conversation'

According to the head of Cath-olic Charities USA, the fallout from the clergy sex abuse crisis will be with the U.S. church for decades to come, and how the church reaches out to its people will determine its health and even survival into the next century.

Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, outgoing president of Catholic Charities, was one of the presenters at the forum held Sept. 18 by Boston College’s “The Church in the 21st Century” initiative. Hehir, a priest of the Boston archdiocese, was recently recalled to his home see from his national post by Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley.

“Regarding the sex abuse crisis in the church, to use a military metaphor: We’ve had the nuclear explosion, the blast is over, but the radiation is still in the air,” Hehir said.

“Rebuilding faith requires recognition by the church of how much harm it has done and acknowledgement by the church of what that harm is -- and a continual awareness, for the rest of my life, that people are right on the edge,” he told the forum.

“If we don’t reach out and draw them back in, they’ll fall off. And if we lose the people who have been disillusioned, the effect of that is felt in the next two or three generations,” he said. “If we can’t bring them back in, the church will suffer a loss that is irremediable and will be devastating, not just to the church, but to people who have had a chance to be enriched by the sacramental life and the intellectual life that is Catholicism.”

Hehir also offered a basic suggestion for renewal: “As a simple principle, we’ve got to treat adults as adults in the church. You can’t have a situation where men and women in corporations, universities, politics, in charge of their own lives … are not treated as adults in the church.”

“We have in the U.S. today the most educated laity the Catholic church has confronted in 2,000 years,” he said.

“The laity needs to understand what a strategic role they are in,” Hehir said. “One hundred years ago tonight, this kind of discussion would have been inconceivable in American Catholicism -- literally inconceivable, in this kind of room, at this university, on this kind of topic.”

What does that mean? “That we’re at a different place in history than this church has been. The laity are in a strategic leverage position,” he said.

Yet, Hehir cautioned, “I’m not calling for a revolution. That doesn’t work in the Catholic church.”

But, he said, “there is a range of definable, discussible issues for adults. The laity needs to say, at every level, ‘We simply won’t accept anything less than adult conversation’ -- which is not rebellion or an attempt to defy the church.”

-- Chuck Colbert

National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2003

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: