Boston College Adds Clergy Abuse Program

A program launched two years ago at Boston College (search) examining the issues raised by the Roman Catholic Church's (search) sex abuse scandal will become a permanent part of the Jesuit university's academic landscape, the school's president says.

The school is searching for a director and a staff for its "Church in the 21st Century" program, which has explored the increasingly strained relationship between church hierarchy and laity, the divide between church teachings on sexuality and the sexual activities of Catholics, and the challenge of bringing the church's message to young people.

"There are still vestiges of anger and frustration, and the hurt remains, but now people want to move on — they're trying to figure out ways of renewing the church," university president William P. Leahy (search) told the Boston Globe in Sunday editions.

The program has proved popular, not just with students, but with alumni and laity interested in the church's future. In two years, 25,000 people have attended the program's lectures and other events, and 160,000 have subscribed to its publications.

"Their faith remains intact. What is eroded is confidence in the leadership of the church, and that is focused on bishops," Leahy said. "The sexual abuse crisis triggered questions people have around other aspects of Catholicism: the status of women, issues around divorce and remarriage, authority in the church — people want to talk more about those right now."

Leahy said the program is not meant to challenge the church, but wants to work in tandem. Leahy and Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley are forging a partnership, and O'Malley recently spoke at a "Church in the 21st Century" conference on "handing down the faith."

Boston College has financial and personnel resources that could be useful to the archdiocese, which is cash-poor, staffed by aging priests and bishops and focused on immediate issues.

An academic environment is the ideal place for discussions about the church's future to take place rather than the institutional church, Leahy said.