In the wake of the revelations from the clergy sexual abuse crisis of the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has adopted a variety of measures including a “zero tolerance” policy, certification procedures for the nation’s dioceses and annual audits to document the number of abuse cases.
But while those are significant and important measures, the Church needs to do much more to restore trust among its parishioners, argued a prominent Franciscan friar and historian. Father Joseph P. Chinnici, OFM, spoke this week at the University of San Diego in a presentation sponsored by the university’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture and University Ministry.
Addressing the immediate issue of clergy sexual abuse is “one small part of the huge wake that’s been left” in terms of people’s faith and the structures of the Church, said Chinnici, the author of a widely praised 2009 book, “When Values Collide: The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church and Lessons for Leadership.”
Shortly after Chinnici was chosen as provincial superior of the Franciscan Friars in California, the issue of clergy abuse took place his own order in the early 1990s, several years before it grew to a national and international scandal. During his talk, Chinnici recalled how the events were “horrific for the victims and institutionally traumatic for us.” His book also documents how the wider scandal scandal led to a clash of institutions and values from the familial, ecclesial, legal, political and canonical worlds and exhibited numerous examples of mismanagement and denial by Church leadership.
The issue continues to be one of deep concern for the public. His talk drew an audience of 70 USD students, faculty and community members who had the opportunity to ask questions such as “what can be done to prevent future abuse?” and “what concrete steps can be taken for reform?”
While expressing continuing support for the victims of abuse, Chinnici argued that many of the steps taken “seem to be paying great dividends” in preventing future cases. Where the Church has fallen short, however, is in responding to the challenges of leadership and the need for a new dialogue between the clergy and the laity, he said. What is needed is a “much more conversational dynamic that allows us to begin to restore trust” and create “mediating structures and places of exchange between pastors and people and between religious life and family life.”
Chinnici said he hopes to see a vigorous dialogue on the subject, adding that his purpose is “not to propose a solution but to start a conversation” that can lead to renewed faith and trust.
— Liz Harman