In the Midst of Pain, a Discerning Vision

By Linda LeMura

Editor Note: When the National Seminar met at Canisius College in mid September, we already had in hand all the articles commissioned for this Mission Impossible? issue. But we quickly realized we needed to address the breaking news arising from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report (Aug 14, 2018) and the scandalous advancement during the time of Pope John Paul II of Theodore McCarrick, as bishop, then archbishop of Washington, and finally cardinal. We are most grateful to Sister Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., emerita, St. Thomas University seminary, and Dr. Linda LeMura, president of Le Moyne College, for addressing the sexual abuse crisis, the cover-up by the majority of bishops, and the related issues of the abuse of power and closed world of clericalism. Once asked, they both submit these articles within two weeks.

The latest wave of clerical sex abuse was yet another emotional jolt to people of good will everywhere. For those among us who have experienced both the joys and the sorrows of growing up in the Catholic Church, the recent revelations of systemic and persistent child abuse and sexual assault by clergy and the subsequent cover-up felt like the last straw. In my own case, I have thought about how to direct my anger toward those “to whom so much was entrusted.” Do I simply avoid an angry conversation and sprint toward the nearest exit, or can I find a more purposeful and reflective response?

Certainly, my response to the current crisis is perhaps amplified by the fact that I am the first woman, spouse, and mother serving as the president of a Jesuit college or university in the United States. I believe, however, that my anger and sense of betrayal are familiar to many Catholics. Having been educated at Catholic institutions from childhood through to my undergraduate years, it is never lost on me that I am the beneficiary of a first-rate education, an education that ensured my professional success and that also guided my spiritual growth. My passion for science and philosophy were cultivated by scholarly religious and members of the clergy from the age of four until I completed my bachelor’s degree. Despite the precious gift of education that the church offered me and my siblings over the course of many years, I have in these present days wondered if the church can still be my “home.” After a great deal of soul searching, I have decided that it’s a home I want to fight for. And I believe that if we all decide to “fight the good fight,” there may be – in the redemption of the Catholic Church – a prize that awaits us all.

I see hope for the future of the church – and by that I mean specifically the church hierarchy – that all of us together can engage meaningfully with the trauma we all feel as a result of the sexual abuse scandal. Such engagement, from my perspective, can and should be fostered by and found in Catholic colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. The time is right now for the church to bring in scholars from all the disciplines in the academy to recalibrate how it selects and develops leaders (lay and clerical) and, I dare say, how it makes manifest matters of governance. I see two distinct possibilities for Catholic colleges and universities to offer meaningful assistance to the church: discernment and collaboration.

In light of the Ignatian and Jesuit traditions that inspire Le Moyne College and because of my desire to model the virtues of Ignatian spirituality to all of the members of our learning community, I urge the leaders of the church to consider a deep reflection and critical analysis of its current state. In my view, this analysis must lead to an honest encounter with the excruciating pain caused by the sexual abuse that festered in the church. Our leaders must also confront their own isolationist – and for that matter moribund – management practices. Academics with backgrounds in psychology and psycho-sexual health, counseling, sociology, church history, organizational ethics, and a host of other disciplines could empower a true discernment toward maximum effectiveness. From that serious discernment, a new movement toward humble and collaborative leadership could become possible. The academy could offer a real partnership to the hierarchy by supporting the intellectual freedom necessary to discern next steps with Ignatian indifference, an essential quality of a good discernment process.

Of course, no true discernment that is grounded in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola occurs in the absence of grace. My friend and colleague, Fr. George Coyne, S.J., who serves as the McDevitt Chair of Physics at Le Moyne, captures well the reliance of true discernment upon the grace of God.

A good discernment positions us to be before God in a fundamental orientation or, as Ignatius expresses it, disposes the soul to free itself…and after accomplishing this, seeks to discover the divine will. The exercises are a fundamental means to attain that orientation but it is God who is the driver. The exercises, and therefore discernment, are to help us leave the driving to God.

With the gift of God’s grace a new model of collaboration could follow. The dynamic role of collaboration involves tapping the reservoir of intellectual talents in leadership studies, human resource management, risk management, developmental and organizational psychology, conflict management, accounting, finance, and data analytics, just to name a few examples. Academics are wired to produce and refine ideas, to disagree, and to collaborate. These are tedious and sometime frustrating ways of proceeding, yet this method of give-and-take works. The key here would be to catalog the academic strengths in various academic departments around the globe and to develop a mechanism to harness those resources in a systematic way.

The future of the church, in my opinion, relies on this essential process of intellectual engagement and critical reflection and an honest discernment with collaboration inclusive enough and deep enough to effect lasting change. The church must find the balance between the immutable truths upon which our faith depends and the space that is necessary to allow modernity to breathe, to evolve, and to serve. Those of us who live and work in academic spaces grapple with the complexities of shared governance every single day. We guide, cajole, consult, recommend, and make decisions with our colleagues day after day. We engage experts in a range of disciplines to help us steward our institutions during times of immense uncertainty and change. We lead during times of turbulence and upheaval, yet we know we are surrounded by rich collegial resources. There is grace in the consultative processes on which we depend. In other words, there is so much to be learned from those of us who lead in the intellectual apostolate. We are ready to serve when those in the hierarchy are ready to engage with our proclivity for consultation and collaboration

In the meantime, I will continue to pray and advocate for all victims of sexual abuse and for the future of the church. I’m not leaving. If I leave, I will lose my voice to speak on behalf of all of those who remain. Further, I would not be able to advocate on behalf of gifted, underserved students who deserve a high quality Jesuit education so that they, too, may ascend to positions of leadership and service. I am here for the rest of the race, and I am convinced that what will help us win that race is the kind of discernment that St. Ignatius and Fr. Coyne suggest – one that “disposes the soul to free itself and after accomplishing this, seeks to discover the divine will.” Once we dare to know that, then we – the church – can move toward the vision that Christ intended.

Dr. Linda M. LeMura came to Le Moyne College as dean of arts and sciences in 2003. After that she served as provost and vice president for academic affairs, during which time she oversaw the revision of the core and the foundation of the Madden School of Business. She became the 14th president of Le Moyne on July 1, 2014.

The cover photo is featured courtesy of the Le Moyne College Instagram page.