Canisius College President John J. Hurley called Thursday for a greater leadership role for women in the Catholic Church in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal in Buffalo and other communities.
Hurley expressed his outrage over the scandal in a letter sent to students, employees, donors and alumni of the Buffalo college. He said it was precipitated by revelations that sexual misconduct in the Buffalo Diocese was covered up and by a grand jury report from Pennsylvania that revealed decades of abuse of children by hundreds of priests.
In a religion that has “marginalized” women and does not allow them to become priests, a stronger role for women might help to “protect children,” Hurley wrote.
“As I read the Pennsylvania grand jury report, I thought, ‘Could anyone imagine women being in charge of matters like this and not doing everything possible to protect the children?’ ” Hurley wrote. “And yet, for centuries, the institutional Church has marginalized women in so many ways apparently ignoring that for a few hours on Easter morning, St. Mary Magdalene – a woman and the first person to whom the Resurrection was revealed – was, in essence, the Church. It is clear that the path forward for the Church must include women in real, significant and substantial positions of leadership.”
Hurley’s letter did not take a position on whether Bishop Richard J. Malone should resign from his post as leader of the Buffalo Diocese.
Several prominent critics – including Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Buffalo business leader and church deacon Paul L. Snyder III – publicly called for the bishop to resign last week because of his handling of clergy abuse cases. More than 60 priests who have worked in the Buffalo Diocese have been alleged to have molested children or have been involved in other improper sexual behavior.
In 2010, Hurley became the first lay president in the history of the Jesuit-run college, which was founded in 1870. He declined to comment further after The Buffalo News obtained a copy of his letter Thursday afternoon.
“What should be the response of faithful Catholics and all of us at Canisius who work in support of this Catholic, Jesuit institution?” Hurley asked in the letter. “In our mission and identity initiatives at Canisius, we have been clear that the Society of Jesus and its colleges and universities aspire to reflect a Vatican II Catholic Church, the Church of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which recognized and encouraged the role of the laity in the life of the Church. There is a battle raging for the heart and soul of our Church and we, the laity, and we, Canisius College, must remain on the battlefield, fully engaged and committed to shaping its future.”
Hurley, who is an attorney, added that it appears the Catholic Church in the United States “will have no choice but to open its files and fully and completely reveal the extent of the evil that exists within. This effort cannot be forestalled by promises of reform and formation of new task forces as the Church’s credibility in these respects has been spent.”
Hurley noted that Pope Francis in 2014 set up a “pontifical commission” to make sure that the problem of sexual abuse by priests was eliminated.
“Just three years later, the only abuse survivor on the commission, Marie Collins of Ireland, resigned, citing resistance from the Vatican and her frustration over the Church’s refusal to implement the commission’s recommendations,” Hurley wrote. “If Pope Francis himself could not compel the Church to act, is it any wonder why the Church’s talk of commissions, task forces, and review panels is met with such cynicism?"
Following is the letter by Canisius College President John H. Hurley: