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Spotlight Report

  Mary Jane England  

A foundation for change


NOW MORE THAN ever an agenda of productive dialogue between the laity and the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church must direct our course toward practical action. With Vatican approval of the revised norms, all eyes will be turned to Boston. A spirit of true openness and cooperation clearly has to prevail here, along with a commitment to hard work. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

During these difficult months, members of the household of faith have given voice to different, authentic responses of conscience, both personally and institutionally. Harnessing that energy and building on those impulses of conscience, clergy and laity must now become more truly united.

The cardinal's resignation, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. If we're serious about protecting children and preventing clerical sexual abuse, we must immediately and fully implement the policies recommended for this archdiocese in October by the Cardinal's Commission for the Protection of Children.

To his credit, Cardinal Bernard Law came to know he needed the advice of psychosocial, legal, and educational experts in addressing the issues. He assembled a mostly lay group to help him chart this course. A principal challenge for Bishop Lennon, as apostolic administrator, is to translate the commission's recommendations into reality.

We were doctors, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, educators, psychiatrists - some Catholic, some not. From March to October, we, the volunteer members of the commission, quietly produced a blueprint for better patterns of care and accountability. We communicated, worked, and bonded. We opened our proceedings to dialogue with victim-survivors, priests, parishes, and colleges, the attorney general's office, the Department of Social Service, and other agencies.

The result was a foundation for healing and change. Our 52-page recommendation devised new policies for the protection of children, prevention of abuse, victim advocacy and outreach, education of children, parents, and parishes, the rights of the accused, and the screening, formation, and evaluation of priests, lay ministers, and church workers.

Implementation of the new policies is not the only response the community of faith can make, but it is a first response, the foundation on which a genuine pastoral response can freely occur, the avenue for radical change from which there can be no turning back.

We in the church must persevere to bring about the systemic and procedural changes to make sure that no child is abused, that all children and families feel safe in our parish communities and schools, that the rights of victim-survivors and the rights of priests are duly observed, and that the training and development of priests reinforces good emotional health and psychosocial maturity all life long, not merely during the seminary years.

Of utmost importance is the immediate appointment of the three boards the Commission urged: 1) the Implementation and Oversight Committee, 2) the Review Board, and, most urgently, 3) the clinically sophisticated Advisory Board for the victim-survivor advocacy program helping to establish its professional referral system. Without these boards and significant lay participation on them, a central avenue of the needed healing for victims, their families, and individual parish communities harmed by this scandal will be blocked.

If we put our shoulders to the wheel and fully implement the recommendations of the commission, Boston will truly be able to advance the moral and social healing so urgently needed. We can begin to move significantly through this crisis. We may even offer a model of change and collaboration to the rest of the country and lift our own heads from the yoke of shame that has cast us down.

Working together in itself brings about a restoration of trust. So let our yoke now be the yoke of social justice being fulfilled across the board in the chancery, parish, schools and colleges, social service agencies, and the larger community.

Whatever perspective conscience and conviction have given us in the past 11 months, we know now that social justice requires even more. It requires demonstrable moral renewal and spiritual transformation. It requires the work of our hands, wise decisions, practical actions, implementation.

It is time to take the next step, to push on that wheel. If we do, productive and useful work will itself be healing for all the citizens of Greater Boston, not only members of the Catholic community.

Mary Jane England is president of Regis College and a member of the Commission for the Protection of Children in the Archdiocese of Boston.

This story ran on page A31 of the Boston Globe on 12/17/2002.
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