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Spotlight Report

A forum for reflection and study for priests


The following article was written by the ad hoc leadership team of the Boston Priests' Forum: The Revs. Robert Bullock (chairman), Walter Cuenin, Paul Kilroy, John McGinty, Gerry Osterman, Thomas Powers, Daniel Riley, and Dennis Sheehan.

BOSTON PRIESTS are gathering. The effort began last fall. Three pastors wondered if other priests felt as they did that there was a need for priests to come together to talk about issues of concern. Before long others had joined them. Then the issue of priest sexual abuse was brought to light in the reports by the Globe Spotlight Team. The need to discuss issues of the priesthood became more urgent than ever.

Two directions seem to be taking shape. One is pastoral. Our numbers are thinning, and the challenges we face in the future are staggering. In a few years there will not be enough priests to fill the parishes of this archdiocese.

The Priests' Forum is a way to address this and other issues such as spirituality, sexuality, and education. It is a place for us to do theological and moral reflection in an open and dynamic environment of our peers. To that end, a day of reflection and study has been planned for May 3. It will be open to all priests. The Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of a new and challenging book entitled ''The Changing Face of the Priesthood'' will be the featured speaker.

The second direction is set by the present crisis. It is one of enormous proportions. Some hope it will be over soon and we can get back to normal. Most agree, however, that this will not be the case and that the current crisis and the way it has been handled are symptoms of a deeper crisis facing the church, a crisis that has triggered forces that have long been restive.

The question now is how will these forces for change be met? Will it be with wisdom and authentic leadership or will the church cling to ways of operating that have proven fragile, unreliable, and outdated? This need for reform of the church is certainly to be one of the priorities of this forum.

The need for priests to come together and support one another is more urgent than ever. While the presbyteral council, a canonical body of the bishop and his priests, is charged with the responsibility of providing a forum for exchanging ideas on various issues, it has been for the most part unsuccessful.

Perhaps the Priests' Forum will be a way to begin a dialogue with the official presbyteral council to revitalize that body. Certainly, the leaders of the Priests' Forum do not want to divide the priesthood of Boston but to promote a deeper unity based on honest dialogue.

The same is true of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. Designed as a forum of laity and clergy to advise the bishop, it has also not been very successful. The Priests' Forum may interact with that body in the hope of making it a true and open forum of dialogue.

Our eagerness to meet and form this association is also prompted by our anger, sorrow, and feelings of shame. The victims who have been abused and their families are our parishioners. The priests who did these things are our brothers and classmates.

It is easy to point to the cardinal or leaders in the church. Could we not have done something more? Why were we not more aware and responsive? We stayed within the walls of our clerical world. One of the benefits of this Priests' Forum could well be that we will not be like this anymore.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 4/11/2002.
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