Women’s gifts needed to help solve church crisis: Kenny
By Deborah Gyapong
OTTAWA (CCN) — Catholic
women must use their gifts to address the systemic problems that have
led to the church’s global sexual abuse crisis.
message Dr. Nuala Kenny, a retired pediatrician and
Sister of Charity, brought to the Catholic Women’s League’s
(CWL) 90th national convention here Aug. 9.
“As long we think clergy
sex abuse is the individual sin of an individual offender or the individual
sin of mismanagement on the part of bishops, we are not going to learn
about why,” Kenny told 600 delegates packing a downtown hotel
Healing requires systemic
attention to systemic and cultural forces that have allowed this to
happen, she said. “The approach has been like giving aspirin for
a headache when the cause of the headache is a brain tumour.”
When she started looking
at the sexual abuse crisis 20 years ago in Newfoundland, people tried
to say it was a local problem, confined to the St. John’s diocese.
Clearly, the sexual abuse crisis is global, she said.
“People are not attentive
to the magnitude of harm,” she said, noting that Jesus’
harshest words were for those who would lead little ones astray.
She stressed she is not blaming
priests or clergy. The whole church needs all of us to restore what
has happened. “What kind of a people are we if we didn’t
take care of this?” she asked.
As women, you have within
you because of your participation in the priesthood of the baptized,
the gifts and talents that are needed by our church today, she said,
noting that women are seldom perpetrators of sexual abuse.
Kenny, who taught medical
ethics at Dalhousie University and acts as a health policy adviser to
the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, has had a front row seat in
examining the sexual abuse crisis in the Canadian church. Not only did
she participate in inquiry in St. John’s that led to the Winter
Commission report, but also she contributed to the Canadian Conference
of Catholic Bishops’ groundbreaking document From Pain to Hope,
as well as Break of Faith; Breach of Hope, which was meant to be a discussion
document at the parish level.
She said the “brave,
wise leadership” in the Canadian church could contribute its wisdom
to the worldwide sexual abuse scandal.
“The suffering is not
just to the victims, but to every good, loving, committed priest and
bishop I know,” she said, saying they have suffered a form of
crucifixion for this scandal.
“It breaks my heart
when they go into Tim Hortons with their clerical suit on and people
move away,” she said.
“You and I are victims,”
she said. “The whole church is suffering.”
“If you are not suffering
from this then you are not paying attention,” she said.
The suffering is an opportunity
for women, through patience and perseverance, to develop the virtue
of hope, to be like the “astounding women” who brought hope
to the Apostles with the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, as
recorded in Luke’s Gospel, she said.
“Is it possible to
attend mass faithfully and not know this person of Jesus?” she
said. “The answer to the crisis in our church has to be Jesus.”
An enormous reformation is
needed, she said. “You’ve got to find Jesus first before
you can start fixing the church of Jesus.”
Kenny called clericalism
a “fundamental problem.”
Clericalism is about the
protection of image and status, it is resistant to criticism and resistant
to change, she said. There is a special role for the ordained priesthood,
but it is not power and privilege but a call to holiness like that of
Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet.
She described herself as
a child of Vatican II, and its call for empowering the laity, especially
the empowerment of women. “Where did that go?” she asked.
Kenny also decried a “confused
and confusing” teaching around sexual theology and procreation,
blaming it for the secrecy that hid sexual abuse for so long.
The church has a split personality
about sex, she said, seeing it as either “glorious and rising
to the heights” and “not related to real marriage,”
she said, drawing laughter from the audience, or the sense that “sex
is dirty and secret.”
Key systemic issues are inadequate
theology and lack of formation of a Christian conscience.
“We have so many Catholics
who think that whatever they think is their conscience.” The formation
of conscience is tough stuff, she said, but “we’ve reverted
She focused on the image of Christ as the Great Physician, whose mission is healing and reconciling mercy.