Santa Clara Turns to Ethics for Guidance on Clergy Scandal

Santa Clara Turns to Ethics for Guidance on Clergy Scandal

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By Deborah Lohse

Like many who have been appalled by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and other allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, staff and scholars from Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics have spent recent weeks seeking a way forward in this dark time.

The result was a series of reflections on how ethics can provide a framework for thinking about solutions: how to begin the hard discussions that are necessary for true reform; what ethical parameters should guide those seeking reform; and an examination of why stories of abuses – even decades in the past – stir up instant anger, mistrust and feelings of betrayal, and shouldn’t be dismissed as “old news.”

The series can be found online at bit.ly/SCUEthicsClergyAbuse.
For parishioners, Julie H. Rubio, professor of social ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, suggests finding ways to confront what aspects of “ordinary” Catholic culture might need to be aired and changed, to “confront the deep distortions that made violence ordinary and allowed it to be tolerated for too long.”

For bishops, Markkula Center’s former executive director Kirk Hanson suggests considering disclosure of more rather than less negative information as a form of trust building. For other organizations, Markkula Center Director of Bioethics Margaret McLean provides lessons from the scandal that can be applied in other contexts such as health care.

In an article called “Outrage Before Ethics,” Center Scholar Karen Peterson-Iyer argues that the first response to the scandal should really be anger. Markkula Director of Campus Ethics David DeCosse reinforces the need for outrage as well as hope, lest we fall into cynicism, and reminds us that “our very revulsion at what happened testifies to the enduring basis of ethics: our most fundamental intuitions of good and evil.”

And for Church leaders who will ultimately reckon with the changes that must at long last be implemented, Markkula’s Senior Director of Leadership Ethics Ann Skeet lays out the warning signs of unhealthy culture, and offers a reminder that it is the people of the church – not the institution – that should be the focus of protective reforms.

As Paul Crowley, S.J., Santa Clara University religious studies professor and editor in chief of Theological Studies, wrote in his own blog, “The object of faith lies not in human traditions or in the forms of religion per se. Faith arises rather in God’s desire for us, a divine desire made manifest in the person of Jesus, who, like the prophets before him, decried religious emptiness, the confusion of holiness with mere human precepts.”

In sum, he says, “The institution may have been defiled from within, but the faith itself has not been.”

Deborah Lohse is assistant director of media and internal communications at Santa Clara University.