Best Practices for Lay Empowerment

Marquette University image

Marquette University

Project Description

This project supports research designed to produce public facing resources for lay empowerment in the face of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and public events designed to test and help refine these resources before they are disseminated in final form. Conor Kelly’s research focuses on spiritual and structural reforms for lay empowerment, including the development of spiritual practices based on the Ignatian Exercises. Karen Ross’s research will focus on sexual violence prevention education for middle and high schoolers as she creates trauma-informed sexual violence prevention education materials. Dr. Kate Ward will serve as project manager. In addition to the research work of Drs. Kelly and Ross and Dr. Mark Levand, an expert in sexuality education, as Dr. Ross’s research collaborator, we will host five public events with Milwaukee-area parishes and community groups, including Awake Milwaukee.

Principal Investigators

Karen RossKaren Ross, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of the M.A. in Christian Doctrine Program at Marquette University. Her research and teaching focus on feminist theology and sexual ethics, particularly the sexual education of Catholic young women. Her work for Taking Responsibility will develop resources for teens to explore power dynamics in relationships and identify patterns within cultures of abuse.
Conor KellyConor M. Kelly, an assistant professor in the department of theology at Marquette University. His research and teaching focus on ethics in ordinary life, particularly practices for conscience formation. He has presented on the theological implications of the clergy abuse crisis and served as a member of Awake Milwaukee’s Advocacy Task Force. His work for Taking Responsibility will develop spiritual practices for lay empowerment.


Mark LevandMark Levand, Ph.D., MEd, CSE (he/him) is a sexuality educator and researcher based primarily in Philadelphia. Dr. Levand researches a wide variety of topics including matters of sexuality in higher education, Catholic sexual theology, consent, therapy, and sexuality educator training.
Kate WardKate Ward, Ph.D., is assistant professor of theological ethics at Marquette University. Her research engages economic ethics, virtue ethics and Catholic social thought. She is the author of Wealth, Virtue, and Moral Luck: Christian Ethics in an Age of Inequality, forthcoming from Georgetown University Press in 2022.

Research Assistant

Cathy Melesky Dante, MSW, MDiv is a spiritual director, lay minister, and PhD student in Marquette University’s Theology department.  She has seen the clergy abuse crisis from many angles, working with a Victim Advocate, as an intern at Saint Luke Institute, and overseeing case managers for survivors of clergy abuse.