BC Professors Call for Changes in the Church

The Church in the 21st Century Center (C21) hosted a panel of Boston College professors Monday night to discuss how the Church can be a more effective institution and restore its credibility in the wake of scandal.

The event began with the Lord’s Prayer and ended with a different sort of plea—one from Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic Ministry and Religious Education.

“Dear Pope Francis,” he said, “whatever you’re going to do, do it quickly.”

Ospino’s request for speedy action summed up the hour-long panel discussion’s main theme: a desire for change.

Ospino, who was joined by Kristin Heyer, professor of Theological Ethics, and Michael Pratt, O’Connor Family professor and director of Ph.D. organization studies, emphasized the need for action from the very beginning of the discussion, when the group analyzed the state of Catholicism in the U.S. The professors agreed that the Church today is one in transition, changing demographically, culturally, and spiritually.

“Certain ways of being Catholic are being left behind,” Ospino said. “In that process, what I notice is a little bit of tension: the tension between the old and the new.”

This tension, they agreed, must be answered through addressing the inadequate structures and methods of operating that are currently employed within the Church.

Heyer acknowledged that some changes are already being made through courageous preaching and symbolic gestures on a parish level. She noted, for example, that the advent wreath in the family mass in the Lannon Chapel of St. Ignatius did not form a complete circle this year, which was the celebrant’s way of signalling the contemporary lack of unity in the Church.

Pratt echoed the calls for change, but also reminded the audience that Catholics are rightfully frustrated.

“This is supposed to be our moral center, and we hear all these things about immorality coming from that moral center,” he said. “It’s pretty disruptive, and pretty damaging.”

Part of the Church’s revitalization process will heavily rely on young people, according to the panelists. Ospino said that young Catholics “are like firefighters,” refocusing the Church’s efforts on moving forward, teaching, and making a difference.

Heyer, too, shared her hope in young people—specifically in her students, whom she has found are “hungry to talk about the abuse crisis in a way that was honest about the depth of the damage” but still “open to understanding how to remain Catholic with integrity.”

Although Pratt agreed with the others on the important role that younger generations will play, he also emphasized that older generations must not be overlooked as potential agents for change.

Referencing a recent phone conversation he had with his mother about how he would be giving this talk, he lamented that “some people write off [his mother’s] generation as the ‘Yes, Father’ generation” when they are often eager for change. He recalled how his mother spoke to him about her many ideas for the Church, saying “Oh, you’ve got to talk about making change, about having women priests, about getting rid of celibacy.”  

As the conversation progressed, the panel discussed the significant role professors at Catholic universities must play in this revitalization by engaging with Catholic communities in accessible, intentional ways before moving onto the issue of restoring credibility within the Church. Heyer proposed that one way to regain credibility is to increase transparency and introduce “real structures of accountability rather than buzzwords about accountability.”

Following that thread, Pratt suggested that we question the current way in which the Church is structured, because, at the moment, it makes it difficult for priests to hold one another accountable. For priests, he said, the Church is almost like a total institution, providing you with your family, housing, food, and more.

“Can you imagine how difficult it would be to whistleblow about someone doing something wrong?” he said.

While acknowledging the persistent need for widespread, institutional change, the panelists also recognized the hope they found in their own parishes. From adopting parishioner-driven parish models to having children be more involved in parish life, the panel members spoke to the ways in which they both modeled and viewed positive changes in their own communities.

In light of these advances, they each concluded with a message for the Pope: take action.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff