On Sept. 3 in the Gentile Gallery, Franciscan University of Steubenville began its annual Gift of Human Sexuality Symposium with a panel discussion on the Catholic Church and sexual abuse. According to Robert Siemens, director of the Franciscan University Office of Evangelization, this first installment of the symposium was to be “an open, honest dialogue … to bring attention to those things in our culture weighing heavy upon us.
The evening opened with the playing of a Word on Fire video interview with Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. In this feature, Bishop Barron exhorted the faithful to “seize the moment” and to work toward repentance and conversion.
Following the bishop, the audience watched a video made by the Rev. Mike Schmitz, a well-known priest and Catholic speaker, calling for Church renewal and reform. Imploring the faithful to take a stand during this “moment of reckoning,” Schmitz said, “It is not an accident that you are alive in this time and place.”
After the video presentations, a panel followed to answer any questions students and faculty had concerning the state of the Church and the role of the faithful at this time. The members of the panel included Stephen Hildebrand, who holds a doctorate in theology, multiple women religious, counselors from the campus Wellness Center and the Rev. Dominic Scotto, TOR. These representatives patiently answered numerous questions concerning the recent events regarding allegations of sexual abuse by priests, the Church’s response and possible causes and effects of the scandals in the Church.
The panelists also described their shock and anger concerning these events, their empathetic feelings toward victims and their hope for the Church going forward. Sister Johanna Paruch, FSGM, a member of the panel, said that no matter the times, “the Church is always worth belonging to.” Similarly, Scotto echoed the words of Jesus concerning his Church, saying, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The audience, filled with numerous students and faculty members, eagerly paid attention and was engaged in the insights the guest speakers offered.
Franciscan University freshman Abby Pitones said that she found it “really reassuring that our university is not hiding what happened but are bringing light into it and helping us, as a Church, to heal.”
This panel was only part of the university’s ongoing response to the recent scandal, following less than a week after an all-campus holy hour held for victims and healing in the Church on the previous Wednesday. Franciscan University continues to pray for healing in the Church and students are invited to gather in the piazza on Friday, Sept. 7 to offer a rosary in community for the reparation of sins of clergy.