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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report


Boston College looks to church's future

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 5/18/2002

Boston College President William P. Leahy (Globe Staff Photo / Wendy Maeda)
The Rev. William P. Leahy, the president of Boston College, earlier this week announced that the Jesuit university would become the first Catholic academic institution in the country to take a serious look at the crisis in the church caused by the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Leahy plans to appoint a committee to design the program over the summer, and to launch it in the fall. But he said it will include undergraduate and graduate courses, public lectures, seminars, and events for alumni. In an interview on Wednesday, Leahy talked about the impact of the sexual abuse crisis on the Catholic faithful, and on his own thoughts on the church's handling of priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Q. Why are you launching this program?

A. You know how the church has been hit so hard by the sexual misconduct by clergy, and what's that's done to Catholics, especially here in Boston but elsewhere as well. It's left people angry, baffled, wondering about the hierarchy and what are the standards for accountability, for bishops, for priests, and the whole issue of the relationship of laymen and women and bishops and priests. As part of that, people are asking, `What is the church going to be?' ... We think there is a role for a Catholic university to help the church address the issues that come out of this sexual misconduct.

Q. Is priestly celibacy going to be discussed?

A. The whole question of membership within the ranks of the priesthood will be discussed. We have to have priests; we're a sacramental church. I can imagine a range of issues coming forth. What is the current teaching of the church? Why does the church hold the position that it holds?

Q. So no subjects are off limits?

A. Not at a university.

Q. But there's been so much concern about the Catholic-ness of Catholic universities.

A. The church may hold whatever it holds with regard to clerical celibacy. What I think we can do is help individuals understand the church teaching, but also maybe help the church understand the viewpoint of lay men and women about what they want in regard to priests, or how do they want the hierarchy to deal with them? We've always had issues up for discussion at Catholic universities. Individuals will speak their minds, which I think is healthy.

Q. Why are broader church issues related to clergy sexual abuse?

A. I think the issue of clergy sexual abuse sparked people to look at their faith in a different way. How could this clergy sexual abuse happen? Why were there coverups by the hierarchy? And then from that, people are just asking more questions.

Q. How do you assess the church's handling of sexual abuse?

A. I would be of the mind of a lot of bishops. They know they've made terrible mistakes in the handling of sexual misconduct by clergy. If you look at the polls, the Catholic community is very unhappy and angry, and their anger is directed at the hierarchy, not at their faith.

Q. But what do you think?

A. I would say the hierarchy has made terrible errors in judgment and it has to seek forgiveness by its members. I think it's baffling how some of these things happened. I don't even know if the bishops understand how they responded. I think clearly they wanted to avoid scandal. No organization, whether it's police or physicians or whatever, wants to have its errors held up to the light of day, but it's wrong, as is coming out so well. It's a violation of the law, and it's a violation of what a religious body stands for. There's a legal violation and a violation of basic Christian Catholic values.

Q. Do you think Cardinal Law should resign?

A. He and I have had a lot of conversations, and my stance has always been that what we say to one another is private. I don't think it would be appropriate for me, as head of this institution, to say what he should or shouldn't do. He's never said what I ought to do in a public fashion.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 5/18/2002.
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