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September 25, 2018

Confronting a Moral Catastrophe

Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

Showing the Confronting a Moral Catastrophe Video

The horrific moral, human, and spiritual costs of clerical sexual abuse are undermining faith and destroying trust in the Catholic Church. The Pennsylvania grand jury report and the resignation of Cardinal McCarrick have exposed grave sexual abuse, as well as institutional and individual failures of bishops and priests who violated the trust of those entrusted to their care and the promises they made to God and the faithful. This has led to an unprecedented crisis and a search for leadership and a way forward to confront this evil, secure justice and healing, and restore faith and trust among the Catholic family of faith.

The Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life brought together a theologian, a journalist and parishioner, a leader in past efforts to address sexual abuse, and an abuse survivor for a major Dialogue on what the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has called a “moral catastrophe.”

The discussion focused on two key challenges:

  • How can lay women and men provide leadership in this time of crisis? How can shock, anger, and revulsion become commitment, resolve, and action to protect young people, dismantle destructive clericalism, and build a culture and structures of accountability and genuine community?
  • How can Catholic teachings help assess the damage and offer a path to accountability, reform, and renewal? How can traditional Catholic principles—human dignity, responsibility, protection for the young and vulnerable, solidarity, and the common good—inform a faithful and effective response to this crisis?


Robert S. Bennett is senior counsel at Schertler & Onorato LLP, a former federal prosecutor, and a prominent defense attorney. He served as an original member of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People created by the USCCB.

Kevin Byrnes is an attorney and partner at FH+H. He has worked as a judge advocate in the U.S. Navy and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He is a graduate of the Catholic University of America and the Columbus School of Law, and will offer his perspectives as an experienced civil and criminal trial attorney and a survivor of clerical sexual abuse.

Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein is assistant professor of theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and author of Remembering God's Mercy and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. A former rock music historian, she was the first woman to receive a doctorate of sacred theology degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

Karen Tumulty is a columnist for the Washington Post. She previously was an award-winning political reporter for the Post, Time, and the Los Angeles Times. She is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Washington, D.C., and author of the recent column on the sexual abuse crisis “Why am I still a Catholic?”

John Carr is the founder and director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. He moderated the dialogue and offered concluding reflections on lessons of the scandals based on his two decades at the USCCB.

This gathering was co-sponsored by the Office of Mission and Ministry and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.