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No More Passive Catholics

By: Jeremey Wilson

anne burke
Justice Anne Burke speaks at Cleveland FutureChurch March 3, 2005

“If I have come away with one clear unequivocal certainty about the Church in our nation, it is this – the Church needs to be reborn and it needs the heroic service of the laity of our nation to do it,” Justice Anne Burke said to a crowd of concerned Catholics who braved an unseasonably severe March blizzard to gather at the River’s Edge CSJ Center in Cleveland for a FutureChurch-sponsored engagement.

Burke, a national appellate court judge based in Chicago, served as interim chair of the U.S. Bishops’ National Lay Review Board (NRB) for Clergy Child Sex Abuse for over two years. She led the investigation of the clergy sex-abuse scandal; the experience left her shocked and saddened, but hopeful for the future of the Church. The key, she said, is a more active, involved laity, and more transparency from the bishops and hierarchy.
In the fight for accountability in the Church hierarchy, groups like FutureChurch can lead the charge, Burke said. “It is vital that Catholic organizations, like FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful and Call To Action, insist on expanded roles of significant leadership for the laity within the Church in our country. We are, after all, a people who believe in the ongoing mystery of grace, the life of God at work in human history.” While Burke emphasized that the malfeasance of a few bishops is not an indictment of them all, and many members of the hierarchy are just as troubled by the sex-abuse crisis as the laity and National Review Board, some bishops have stonewalled against NRB audits and treat completed investigations more as bullets dodged than ongoing efforts in the pursuit of truth.

Sex abuse task force members
Sex Abuse Task Force members from the Cleveland Community of St. Malachi Parish led the way in calling for bishop accountabilit.

The first step in developing a culture of accountability in the Church is to acknowledge the errors of the past, and put blame where it properly belongs: “The most serious crisis in the history of American Catholicism flowed from the top down. It was not a result of permissive thought on the part of the laity. It was not the product of the errors of heterodoxy. It was not the product of too much reform. It was not the failure of the faithful laity to live up to their responsibilities or commitments. It was the refusal of institutional authority to act with justice. It was the failure of many bishops to defend the laity - their families, children and homes. It was the failure of the hierarchy to know how to act rightly and, ultimately, to be the stewards they are meant to be.”

The only solution, according to Burke, is more lay involvement. Without an empowered laity willing to exercise its rights, change will be only cosmetic, not real cures for the ills of the Church. “ ‘No more passive Catholics’ is my mantra now.”

Read the full text of Justice Burke’s speech.

Focus on FutureChurch

Spring 2005



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