Catholic Priest Clark Addresses Scandals, Future of the Church

Speaking to members of the Phillips Academy community in a Friday forum sponsored by the Catholic Student Fellowship (CSF) and an Abbot Academy (AA) grant, Father William Clark delivered a lecture entitled, “The Catholic Church: What’s Going On?” A professor at Holy Cross College, Father Clark expressed his opinions about “the abuse crisis, the current state of the Catholic Church, and possibilities for the future state of the Catholic Church” within the United States and worldwide. Since the Catholic priest abuse crisis has attracted much news coverage recently, Father Clark addressed the topic first. According to Father Clark, 1,205 out of the 46,000 priests in the U.S. face accusations of molestation, with 166 of the 177 dioceses affected and five bishop resignations offered over the course of the past year. The guest speaker admitted, “A lot more was going on behind the scenes then even those of us around the Church knew.” He stated that the best reparations for victims of abuse are respect and reform in the Church — efforts that would ensure such activities do not occur again. Although he believes that there is no monetary value great enough to erase the pain that the victims have suffered, he said that they should be entitled to some sort of payment. Last year, after a court order mandated dioceses to release their records, it was revealed that bishops were moving priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes. Such revelations led to the departure, amongst others, of Boston Diocese Archbishop Bernard Law from his post in December. On a different note, Father Clark also spoke about public reactions to the scandal, focusing on the victim-advocacy group Voice of the Faithful, which started in Wellesley, MA, after the magnitude of the abuse scandal became known. Voice of the Faithful advocates an increase in layperson input at all levels of the Church. Father Clark then addressed one of the largest problems that the Church faces outside of the abuse scandal: the lack of priests. He explained, “Current priests are too old and too few. There are more priests over 90 years old than under 30.” Father Clark linked this shortage to the decline in ordinations in the past decades, noting that in 1965 there were 1,600 ordinations, while in 1999, there were only 450. However, Father Clark told the audience that because of the shortage in ordained priests, more opportunities exist for laypeople such as PA’s Catholic Chaplain Maria Cataldo to become involved in the Church. Adding that Catholics comprise 25% of the American population, Father Clark dispelled many audience members’ perceptions that the number of Catholics in the nation is declining. Although Father Clark encouraged discussion about such radical changes as ordaining female priests or allowing clergy to marry, he noted that he could not comment on such issues because of his occupation. However, Father Clark remarked, “nobody should expect any major changes until a new pope takes the helm of the Catholic Church.” Father Clark also spoke on the present danger of a schism in the Catholic Church between a so-called “reformed” group and a more conservative entity. He expressed concern about this thought and noted that a schism would serve only to further divide adherents to the faithr. Father Clark donated his stipend allotted by the AA grant to the Jamaican Fund, a non-profit organization based in Maine that sponsors goodwill trips to Jamaica and the Caribbean. CSF Board member Dennis Corkery ’03 observed, “Father Clark did a wonderful job inspiring discussion while remaining reserved and letting the audience get excited about what he was talking about.”