The leadership style of Canisius College President John Hurley was thrown into high relief this year as a clergy sex abuse scandal roiled the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. Rather than join other public figures in calling for Bishop Richard J. Malone to resign, Hurley chose a quieter path.
“I didn’t feel like I should be one of the people out there calling for the bishop’s resignation,” Hurley told The Buffalo News, “because then the story became more about, ‘Is the bishop going to resign or not?’ versus ‘What does the church have to do to solve this problem?’ ”
Hurley has become Western New York’s foremost leader of the lay Catholic community by using what he calls “the megaphone” of his office to speak out on issues.
The college executive is a lifelong Catholic who graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, Canisius College and the University of Notre Dame’s Law School. He is widely respected for his skills as a consensus builder, not as a maker of fiery speeches.
When reports came out about the abuse of children by clergy members, locally and across the country, Hurley issued a statement calling upon the Catholic Church to give women a role in running things.
“Could anyone imagine women being in charge of matters like this and not doing everything possible to protect the children?” Hurley wrote in a public statement.
When a Canisius student and track athlete told media outlets in November that her parents had cut her off financially because she is gay, there was pressure on Hurley to respond.
“It is precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit that we will continue to stand in solidarity with all of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and treat them with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” Hurley wrote in an email to the Canisius community.
Canisius has grappled with declining enrollment in the past few years, so the college president’s outspokenness is not without risk. Just as some prospective students and their families will be drawn to his message of inclusion and welcoming to all, there are other people of faith who will find his outreach to gay students to be a bridge too far.
Hurley is displaying real leadership – doing what he thinks is right, at the risk of making some people unhappy.
“If your mission is going to mean anything to you, you have to assert it in the positive and identify what you stand for and what you’re going for in the world,” Hurley told The News.
Hurley and his wife, Maureen, are part of a group of nine lay people in Buffalo who formed a group this year called the Movement to Restore Trust. John Hurley said he felt a “sense of betrayal” over the Buffalo Diocese’s handling of abuse accusations.
The group says its mission is “to help the church in Buffalo look forward, implement meaningful reforms, and rebuild the faithful’s trust and confidence.”
Bishop Malone has said he welcomes the input of the board, which is a good sign for the Buffalo area’s more than half a million Catholics. With Hurley as a driving force, we are confident the panel will pursue its mission not through press releases and media headlines, but through quiet diplomacy and an emphasis on finding real solutions.