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USCCB director lectures on abuse

John Cameron | Monday, January 21, 2013

Leadership and protecting children from sexual abuse will be the focus of a pair of lectures presented this week by Dr. Kathleen McChesney, former executive director of the Office of Child Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The first presentation in the Provost’s Distinguished Women’s Lecture series, “Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: Where are We Now?” will take place Monday night in McKenna Hall. McChesney said the talk would include an assessment of the problem and a discussion of potential solutions.

“I’m going to discuss the nature and scope of the problem of sexual abuse over time in the U.S. and some of the actions that can be taken by Catholic bishops [and other Church leaders] to respond to allegations of abuse,” she said. “I’m going to talk about, from my perspective, having worked on this issue … why it’s important.”

For McChesney, the importance of the problem is three-fold.

“There’s no doubt that the – if you want to call it – sexual abuse crisis has affected first of all the victims. Even though each is affected in a different way, the relationship between the victims and their families and the Church is altered,” she said.

“Talking about Catholics in general, there is huge disappointment, there is disbelief, there is anger, there is a loss of trust and faith. There’s a range of reactions,” she said. “Then there’s society in general … For those who didn’t like the Church anyway, for some people this is reinforcement.”

While the Church is responsible for addressing these issues, it is important to realize sexual abuse is the result of the actions of individuals, she said.

McChesney looked to bring the discussion to the University because she said Catholic institutions have a role to play in tackling the problem.

“I think Notre Dame, like many other Catholic institutions, we look to for leadership and guidance in areas regarding ethics and morality,” she said. “They need to shine a light on problems like this, they need to provide ethical and moral leadership to other components of the Catholic Church, they need to conduct research into the issues surrounding sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults.”

Prior to her time at the USCCB, McChesney was the third ranking official at the FBI. She said leaving was a difficult choice, but worthwhile.

“That was a somewhat hard decision to leave the FBI, because it was not that long after 9/11 and there were a lot of changes going on at the FBI and I had a responsibility to help make them,” she said. “But I also saw that the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was a lot bigger than people thought. … There’s a mission involved, what you’re doing is hopefully making things better for children.”

The second lecture, “The Privilege to Serve: Leadership the FBI Way,” will take place Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Law School.

While McChesney will be speaking in the context of a former FBI official, she said her advice and lessons would be broadly applicable.

“In many ways – not in every way – in most ways, leadership in the FBI isn’t any different than leadership in other organizations when your workforce is made up of men and women,” she said. “Men and women are motivated and inspired by many of the same things, they bring the same personal complexities to the workplace.”

McChesney hopes the talk will give students an opportunity to assess their ability to take a leadership position in the future.

“Leaders need to be involved with people, they need to like people, they need to be the kind of people that seek a challenge and really value problem solving,” she said. “It is a privilege to serve others in a leadership role. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the FBI, at Notre Dame or John Deere.”