Survivors of clerical sexual abuse and former clergy offenders have worked together for the first time at a ground-breaking meeting in Durham, held last week (21 - 23 January) at Ushaw College.
Alongside psychologists and lawyers, seminary rectors and theologians from Europe, North America and Australia, they attended a conference organised by Durham University's Centre for Catholic Studies (CCS) and its Project for Spirituality, Theology and Health with the support of the UK Jesuits and Heythrop College, the English Benedictine Congregation, and the Marist Brothers, together with St Patrick's College Maynooth.
Entitled 'Boundary Breaking: The Consequences and Implications of the Sex Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church', the consultation looked beyond immediate responses to consider how research into both the roots and the effects of the crisis could contribute to creating not only a safer church but also a renewed church.
The approach adopted is multi-disciplinary, asking if there are aspects of Catholic culture that enabled and protected abusers and if some teachings of the Church became distorted in ways that contributed to the problem. Among the areas considered were priestly formation and ongoing support, spirituality and psychology, the dynamics of leadership and organisations.
Among those participating were four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently formed by Pope Francis, which will have its first full meeting in Rome next month. These were Marie Collins, who is a survivor, together with Fr Hans Zollner SJ and Baroness Sheila Hollins, three founding members of the Commission as well as Peter Saunders, founder and CEO of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood, recently appointed to the Commission.
Speaking at the end of the conference, Professor Paul D Murray, Dean and Director of the CCS, described the event as the beginning of an important long-term project and said: "This gathering has scoped out areas of much needed evidence-based research into both the theory and practice of Catholic life. Whilst gathering this evidence and finding the required resources will be a challenge, all partners recognise that it is vital for the renewed health of Catholic life that we do so."
For more information about Durham University Centre for Catholic Studies see: www.dur.ac.uk/theology.religion/ccs/
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