Church still needs open discussion about sex abuse: speaker

Mitch MacDonald
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Sister Nuala Kenny will be speaking on issue tonight at Confederation Centre

Sister Nuala Kenny

The Roman Catholic Church still needs to have an open and honest discussion about sex abuse scandals, says a high profile sister of the church and pediatrician.

Sister Nuala Kenny said the church’s denial and secrecy over the scandals has caused it to lose credibility in speaking to society not only about the crisis, but also on larger issues of child pornography and human trafficking.

“These are global issues and my church needs to speak to those atrocities,” she said. “But right now, part of the loss of trust we’re experiencing makes us not credible.”

She will be speaking about the topic, “Healing the Church: Lessons from the Clergy Abuse Crisis”, during a presentation at the Confederation Centre of the Arts tonight. The presentation is sponsored by the Saint Dunstan’s University Board of Governors.

Kenny was the pediatrician on the five-person Winter Commission enquiry of St. John’s, N.L. in 1989 and 1990.

Now considered a landmark report in the history of clergy abuse, Kenny said the commission pointed out that while there were individual factors throughout the priest offenders, the crisis was also characterized by denial and secrecy in the church.

“For something like this to go on for as long as it had, you have to start looking at the culture of the organization,” she said. “Quite clearly, they (the Roman Catholic Church) are in total contradiction to anything Jesus Christ said or did.”

The report was early in the public revelation of child abuse as a social problem.

After her work with the commission, Kenny went back to her career as a pediatrician and stayed largely out of the clergy abuse issue. That was until the 2009 arrest of Raymond Lahey, who was the Roman Catholic Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Antigonish.

“When I heard the reason of his arrest, importation of child pornography, I had a flashback to Newfoundland and the terrible pain and suffering that occurred there,” Kenny said.

She  said while she felt the commission had identified some of the underlying issues, members also didn’t think the crisis would continue going on as it has.

“We identified them (issues) and assumed church leadership would take care of them. Then I realized part of the problem, with any organization, is it resists fundamental change and critique. Particularly when the critique is of moral failure.”

Kenny said her question now is what the church’s response to the crisis says about itself and followers. She added that her discussions are not to open old wounds on individual offences but to look at the problem in the church as a whole, comparing it to a medical misdiagnosis.

“They (the church) are not getting to the heart of why we behaved the way we did,” she said.

Kenny, who is also a leading Canadian ethicist, has authored a book on the issue, “Healing the Church”.

She has worked in the departments of pediatrics at Dalhousie and Queens Universities and has also served as director of medical education at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto and as chief of pediatrics at the IWK in Halifax. She was also the founding chair of the Department of Bioethics of Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine and served as the deputy minister of health in Nova Scotia.

During her visit to P.E.I., Kenny will also speak to health-care professionals on the subject of spirituality in modern health care. She will also share a presentation titled “Thoughts on Academia and Faith” with SDU scholars and representatives of the UPEI Department of Religious Studies and campus ministry.

Tonight’s lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public. While admission is free, tickets are required and may be obtained by calling the Confederation Centre Box Office at 1-902-566-1267 or toll free, 1-800-565-0278.

Organizations: Confederation Centre, Roman Catholic Church, University Board of Governors.Kenny Winter Commission Dalhousie and Queens Universities Hospital for Sick Children University of Toronto IWK Department of Bioethics UPEI Department of Religious Studies Confederation Centre Box Office

Geographic location: Antigonish, Newfoundland, Halifax Nova Scotia.During

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