The Events of the Notre Dame Forum: “Rebuild My Church”
The 2019-20 Notre Dame Forum examined the sexual abuse crisis in the Church and was titled “Rebuild My Church: Crisis and Response.”
On the selection of the theme, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said, “The phrase ‘Rebuild My Church’ is an allusion to God’s summons to St. Francis of Assisi, and reflects our hope that we might, as a community of scholars that seeks to serve the Catholic Church as well as larger society, examine the sexual abuse crisis and consider reforms to which it should lead. While we must never fail to be honest and forthright about terrible acts of abuse and failures of oversight, the Forum is designed to be constructive and forward-looking, as we seek to identify avenues for change that could have broad application both in the Church and in other institutions.”
The Forum opened with an expert panel on the topic “The Church Crisis: Where Are We Now?” In his opening statement, Father Jenkins said, “We will try to take an honest and informed look at the clergy sex abuse scandal and responses to it as we attempt to discern how we might best respond.…Our reflections will be informed, of course, by the facts, but also by faith in God who brings life out of death— who shines light in darkness.”
“The phrase ‘Rebuild My Church’ is an allusion to God’s summons to St. Francis of Assisi, and reflects our hope that we might, as a community of scholars that seeks to serve the Catholic Church as well as larger society, examine the sexual abuse crisis and consider reforms to which it should lead.”
The first panel was moderated by Crux editor-in-chief John Allen and featured Juan Carlos Cruz, a sex abuse survivor and advocate; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori; Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive; and Peter Steinfels, a religion journalist.
Steinfels, who along with his wife, won the 2003 Laetare Medal, noted the scope of the crisis by sharing that from 1950 until 2002 between four and five percent of Catholic clergy sexually abused more than 10,000 youth.
“I have followed and written about the sex abuse story for about three decades, and the one thing I am most certain about is that most of us, myself very much included, know much less about this painful, stomach-churning scandal than we think we know,” he said.
New research from Notre Dame helps fill in some of the gaps in information. In September, the McGrath Institute for Church Life and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate released results of a nearly 2,400 person survey of Catholic seminarians and their experience with misconduct. Of those, six percent claimed to have experienced sexual harassment or abuse. The release, which was timed in conjunction with the Forum, also included recommendations from seminarians for preventing and addressing abuse.
The Forum also included presentations of the film Doubt, a two-day conference titled, “Called and Co-Responsible: Exploring Co-Responsibility for the Mission of the Church,” an ethnographic exploration of Catholic abuse survivor protests, and a Q&A with Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna, adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the leader of the Vatican’s efforts to counter sex abuse.
Archbishop Scicluna said in his opening remarks, “Certainly there are physical and psychological marks, but when its abuse by clergy there is a spiritual dimension.…You meet people who are hurt and who are going through what Jesus experienced on the Cross when he cried, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’”
Father Jenkins has also pledged up to $1 million over the next three years to fund projects tackling issues stemming from the Church sexual abuse crisis.
The Notre Dame Forum began in 2005 and has covered topics ranging from immigration to sustainability to the role of presidential debates.