Conference focuses on Catholic clergy abuse scandal

Marquette is hosting “Harm, Hope, and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal" to examine the crisis and the path forward. The Reverend Blasé J. Cupich, chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Protection of Children and Young People, spoke Monday at this conference. Photo by Brittany McGrail / Brittany.McGrail@Marquette.edu

International figures gathered at the Marquette Law School yesterday for a two-day conference to discuss the Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The conference, “Harm, Hope, and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal” is this year’s Restorative Justice Initiative-sponsored conference, an annual event in its seventh year. Attendees traveled from Ireland, Australia and cities across the U.S.

This year’s conference examined the path toward healing from the scandal and featured stories from abuse victims and clergy members, according to a university news release.

On Monday, a panel discussion for victims was held. The Rev. Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, discussed his perspective on the scandal and throughout the day conference participants were asked to engage in brief personal reflections.

Today, a panel of priests will discuss how they were personally affected by the sexual abuse scandal. There will also be breakout sessions during which attendants can view a documentary or engage in reflection and prayer.

Janine Geske, a distinguished professor of law, said the conference’s purpose is focusing on the ripple effects of the clergy sex abuse scandal and talking about ways the community can help. Supporting victims and protecting future generations of children were also discussion topics.

“This is a unique conference in that we are recognizing the harm that has been done as well as giving hope to people in a way to help repair harm and rebuild faith in the church,” she said.

In addition to Archbishop Martin, event speakers included the Rev. Blase J. Cupich, Bishop of Spokane, Wash., and Ian Elliot, the chief executive officer of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

Cupich talked about the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 to address the issue of sexually abused minors. The charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse.

He stressed the need for continued healing and learning throughout his talk.

“Our children should be the real motivation to keep our promise to protect and heal through a community of learning,” he said.

He also said the church should be focused on finding solutions rather than being concerned with negative media coverage, its finances and self-image.

Andrew Fagan, director of Child Protection for the Archdiocese of Dublin, said conferences like these help him see what other people are doing around the world to work on the repercussions of clergy sexual abuse.

“We have to understand that this isn’t over,” Fagan said. “There has been some progress, but we still need to make the church safer for our children.”

Brother Phil Mulhall, executive officer of the National Committee for Professional Standards, a committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops and the Leaders of Religious Institutes in Australia, said this conference is important in addressing the harm that has been inflicted. By listening to others’ experiences, we can better learn to deal with the harm, he said.

“At this conference, you have a lot of people trying to bring justice to this issue,” he said. “The conference is able to help them by sharing their experiences and sharing what has been effective.”

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