Catholic Church 'will die' without reform, warns theology prof

It's do or die for the Catholic Church as it looks for reform amid widespread sex abuse scandals, says an associate professor at the Atlantic School of Theology.

David Deane says the church needs to recognize it's in crisis

David Deane, associate professor at the Atlantic School of Theology, says the church will die if it doesn't reform. (Submitted by David Deane)

It's do or die for the Catholic Church as it looks for reform amid widespread sex abuse scandals, says an associate professor at the Atlantic School of Theology.

David Deane said Thursday the church is at a crossroads and needs to consider its next step very carefully.

"We need to reclaim the word reformation, and realize that we are in a crisis and if we don't reform ... we will die," Deane told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon

"And there's no question about this."

Church officials are asking what reformation in the church will look like on the heels of a proposed class-action lawsuit against a Nova Scotia archdiocese and an unprecedented letter to the world's Catholics from Pope Francis.

The letter, condemning sex abuse by priests, came after a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into sexual abuse by clergy involving at least 1,000 children and 300 priests over seven decades.

"Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated," the Pope wrote in his apology.

Transforming hearts

Archbishop Anthony Mancini, head of the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese, told Maritime Noon he believes a major transformation is required to get the church back to its core values.                 

He echoed the Pope's apology, but said the next step is that it needs to be translated into concrete actions.

"If we find ways of translating the prayer component, it means the transformation of people's hearts," said Mancini.

Earlier this month, a notice for a class-action lawsuit was filed against the Halifax​-Yarmouth archdiocese in Nova Scotia Supreme Court alleging sexual abuse at the hands of priest George G. Epoch.

The lead plaintiff in that case, Douglas Champagne, claims he was abused as an altar boy at Canadian Martyr's Church in Halifax's south end in the 1960s. His lawyer, John McKiggan, said he believes there are "perhaps many hundreds" of victims. The lawsuit has not yet been certified.

Outside involvement

Deane said he thinks the solution lies in identifying how the church structure facilitated and enabled what he called "atrocities."

"When you have all clergy groups investigating cases, certain toxic things develop," he said.

He said the church needs to have non-clerical, outside involvement in the oversight of sexual abuse cases.

Bishops who've proven to be incapable of handling the issue should tender their resignation, he added.

Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini says he believes a major transformation will be required to get the church back to its core values. (CBC News)

Mancini said on a personal level, he believes a better alternative to bishops or the Pope resigning would be the head of the Catholic Church calling an ecumenical council — where church dignitaries and theological experts could meet to settle matters of church doctrine and practice.

"I think we need to be able to do what can be done, but with the support of those who are authentically interested in reform," said Mancini.

About the Author

Danielle d'Entremont

Reporter/Editor

Danielle d’Entremont is a reporter based in Halifax. She previously worked for CBC Toronto and is happy as a clam to be back in her hometown. She’s always fishing for interesting stories. Send your story to her at danielle.dentremont@cbc.ca.

with files from CBC's Maritime Noon