Faithful Air Their Views on Catholic Sex Scandal
A Discussion of the Charges Attracts 200 at a Church Conference in Anaheim. 'We Have Created' the Problem, the Moderator Says

By Jennifer Mena
Los Angeles Times
March 1, 2003

Anaheim CA - Far from courts, steeples and television cameras, 200 Catholics quietly gathered in an Anaheim conference room Friday to discuss the sex abuse scandal facing their church.

Leading their discussion was Tom Beaudoin, a theologian from Boston College who said the church has not been open enough on issues of sex.

Declines in church confidence cannot be "attributed to the bias of the media," Beaudoin said. "This is a problem we have created ourselves."

His remarks came during the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, held at the Anaheim Convention Center and nearby hotels and sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The event is billed as the nation's largest annual gathering of Catholics, and this year's attendance is expected to match last year's turnout of more than 37,000.

It is the first since allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests erupted into a national scandal.

The conference offered sessions ranging from singing the message of Jesus to the anti-abortion movement. But possibly the most timely topic was Beaudoin's, on how the church should confront the scandal.

Among his solutions: more frank discussions about sex, homosexuality and celibacy; meetings with victims of sexual abuse; gatherings of church members of varying ages; and dialogues with churches of other faiths for guidance on how to address issues of sexuality.

Because of the scandal, the church needs to be more aggressive in retaining its members, Beaudoin said, noting a record drop in the number who have confidence in organized religion. That trend is even sharper among Catholics, he added.

Beaudoin said, "We have many fears operating in our church: a fear of sexuality, a fear of discussing openly married sex, a fear of discussing homosexuality, a fear of discussing that we are sexual beings."

Young adults sense that fear, he added.

Veronica Noriega, 20, who is active at St. Emydius Catholic Church in Lynwood, said Beaudoin's talk inspired her to ask her pastor to organize a dinner to discuss such issues.

"It's important that we are able to accept what has happened and be able to answer kids' questions when they come up," she said.

The three-day conference ends Sunday, when Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is expected to celebrate Mass.

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.