Members of the Catholic laity in Buffalo are stepping forward to help institute change and re-establish trust in their church.
“For those of us who have been heavily involved in the Catholic Church here in the diocese…it has been a very discouraging time and, in the past few days, has seemed, perhaps, especially hopeless,” said Canisius College President John Hurley.
Hurley is one of nine concerned lay people who are active in their parishes within Buffalo’s Catholic Diocese who are embarking on a mission to help shape a path forward for the Diocese, with laity involvement.
Hurley and fellow members of the group say lay people within the church have begun turning away from the institution in light of the ongoing scandal over sexual abuse by clergy and alleged efforts to conceal it. They’ve consulted with national groups such as Leadership Roundtable, a Catholic organization focused on developing best practices in dioceses.
“We are here to try to help learn from people in other parts of the country who have been through these kinds of tribulations, learn what has worked, and adapt what we need to meet the needs of Western New York,” said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean at UB’s school of medicine and member of the group. “But change will come.”
Whether or not the change will be constructive will be up to those involved, said Nielsen. She said she’s heard from hundreds of Catholics who are devastated and, also, from priests.
“For example, when they heard on 60 Minutes that there may be eight or nine people who should have been removed from ministry or are still in ministry, I had a newly ordained priest and a senior priest both say the same thing to me independently. They said, ‘When people look at us, they wonder if we’re one of those eight or nine,’” said Nielsen.
Nielsen said the church must be transparent, but also noted that it’s not about going after one individual because the problem is cultural and systemic.
Along with Hurley and Nielsen, the group includes Paul. D. Bauer, Thomas R. Beecher, Robert M. Greene, Maureen O. Hurley, Carl J. Montante, Mary Travers Murphy, and Nancy W. Ware.
The group will take its first major step with a symposium at Canisius College on November 28th at 7 p.m. entitled “Rebuilding Trust: A Path Forward for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.” The focus will be discussion of the church’s actions, what can be done to protect the vulnerable and hold leaders accountable, and how to heal the church and its members.