Saint John's Seminary presents conference on ministry to vulnerable adults - Saint John's Seminary
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Saint John's Seminary presents conference on ministry to vulnerable adults

June 30, 2022

As the internal system of law within the Catholic Church, Canon Law is the oldest continuous legal system in the western world. It is not a topic which is often on the forefront of one’s mind, but it is something which affects every Catholic whether they know it or not. Canon Law deals with many issues that any civil law would, such as property issues, procedures, administration, personnel, and marriage. It also deals with issues which civil law can not address such as sacraments, sacred places and magisterial teachings. Catholic faithful ought to be aware of Canon Law, but clergy should especially understand it so that it can inform and shape their ministry. Canon Law exists as a tool which aids the Church on its mission to proclaim the Gospel to the world.

On July 21st, 2022, Saint John's Seminary will host a conference on "Vulnerable Persons in Canon Law and Pastoral Ministry" for the clergy of New England. Keynote speaker Bishop Mark O'Connell will discuss the concept of "vulnerable persons" in light of recent reforms to the Code of Canon Law. The revisions to the law aim to address major shortcomings in the church's handling of sexual abuse and apply that law to laity in church offices as well. Canonists and tribunal staff will be interested in the academic side of this vital contemporary question however the conference is designed for pastors to walk away with a clearer understanding of how these revisions are applicable to their ministry within their parish communities.

The conference invites an audience of parish priests and pastors along with Pastoral Associates and lay canon lawyers from across New England. Attendees will hear from Rear Admiral Daniel O'Toole, UNS, who chairs the Diocesan Review Board for the Archdiocese of Boston, who will speak on the topic of "The Coercive Influence of Power and Position". The conference will conclude with a presentation from VIRTUS which will review parish training and compliance questions in light of the recent revisions to Canon Law. Building on the canonical foundation, these speakers will illuminate how priests and pastors can minister to "vulnerable persons" in their day-to-day pastoral work.

As canon and civil laws change, pastoral practice will change with them. The upcoming conference at Saint John's Seminary will prepare the clergy of New England to remain at the forefront of the Church's efforts to combat abuse while serving the most vulnerable members of the church compassionately and effectively.

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Bishop Mark O’Connell undertook studies in canon law starting in 1997 at the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Holy Cross in Rome, completing his licentiate degree in 1999 and his doctorate in 2002. His dissertation was titled The Mobility of Secular Clerics and Incardination. After returning to Boston, he joined the canonical affairs staff of the archdiocese in 2001 and was appointed judicial vicar in 2007. From 2009 to 2012, Bishop O’Connell served as a senior consultor to the Canon Law Society of America. He has also served on the faculty of Saint John’s Seminary.

Rear Admiral Dan O’Toole currently chairs the Diocesan Review Board for the Archdiocese of Boston and is the retired Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Navy and is a former trial and appellate court judge. He has served in various roles involving the review and adjudication of crimes of sexual assault, sexual abuse and harassment, including as staff counsel to the prosecutors during the Navy Tailhook scandal. At the senior staff level, he worked to establish policies and best practices to combat sexual abuse and harassment in the Navy. While serving as a trial judge, Dan presided over numerous sexual assault and murder cases. He later served as Chief Judge of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals which reviews felony cases involving Navy and Marine Corps service members, including crimes of sexual assault. Following his 29 years of service in the Navy, Dan served as the Circuit Executive of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., until his retirement in 2016. Dan is currently a fourth-year candidate studying for the Permanent Diaconate in the Archdiocese of Boston. He and his wife, Anne, are members of Mary Queen of Martyrs Parish (St. Peter’s Church) in Plymouth.

Patricia Neal, M.S., serves as Director of the VIRTUS® Programs for National Catholic Services, LLC where she manages the daily interactions with dioceses, eparchies and religious communities, both nationally and internationally, that subscribe to the VIRTUS® programs. Ms. Neal participates in strategic planning, consults with clients, and manages ongoing projects for the VIRTUS Programs, including the development of training and risk management programs. The VIRTUS Programs assist the Church in being a safe haven for children and the vulnerable, and a messenger for preventing child sexual abuse within the Church and society in general.

About the Seminary: Founded in 1884, New England’s oldest Major Seminary, Saint John’s Seminary serves Catholic communities across the New England region and beyond by educating and training men to be Catholic priests and by providing a graduate education in Catholic Theology to laity, deacons, and professed religious who serve the Church in a variety of different ministries.