The present structure of the Catholic Church took some real hits Wednesday night, as the sex abuse crisis was scrutinized before a large crowd at Canisius College's Montante Center and in cyberspace.
A group of prominent local Catholics organized the meeting, under the general title of the Movement to Restore Trust. Moderated by Canisius President John Hurley, the panelists were two priests, a nun and a nationally prominent lay Catholic leader.
Backed by the audience, they all see a need for major changes in the way the church is run, leaders are selected and held accountable. That could include deciding which posts require a priest and which could be filled by others.
Swormville Pastor Fr. Robert Zilliox said priests need help.
"Encouraging our priests to become holy men, encouraging our priests to become all that God wants them to be," Zilliox said. "Because I think we've lost focus of our own ordination. I think that's fundamentally where all this came from. We got so high on ourselves that we forgot why were were ordained to begin with, why we wanted to become priests to begin with."
St. Bonaventure University President Emeritus Sister Margaret Carney said orders of nuns do it differently.
"In my experience, I have often reflected how fortunate we are as religious to be in structures in the church where we elect our leaders," Carney said, "and for some of us, those elections come fairly regularly, every eight years or so, whereas a diocesan priest does not have that freedom or that agency."
A continuing element of the discussions was that decisions should be made by a larger group of clergy and church members, bringing diverse points of view and knowledge into making those decisions.
Among the panelists was Kerry Robinson, founding executive director of Leadership Roundtable, which promotes best practices and accountability in management in the church. Robinson said there have to be more than just ordained priests around the table of decisions.
"Analyzing a very serious problem like the one we are addressing tonight, the analysis will always be better and, therefore, the suggested plan of action for solution will be much better informed," Robinson said. "This is absolutely essential for us to get this right. Diversity matters. Who is at the tables of decision-making matters."
Talk of broadening who is around the table when decisions are made drew wide support from the hundreds in the audience.