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Australian bishops gather in the light of the royal commission

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Andrew Hamilton |  04 May 2017

 

The government and the Catholic Church both face difficulties when commending values. The difficulties will dog events during the next week in which both institutions are on public display — the bringing down of the budget and the meeting of the Australian Catholics Bishops Conference.

LighthouseIn each case the difficulty has its roots in defects of governance: a lack of leadership, authority, transparency and inclusiveness. When the government appeals to values with respect to the Australian community or education, its appeal is commonly assumed to mask electoral self-interest and internal party conflict. That underlying its rhetoric is a lack of transparency, inclusiveness and authority is taken for granted.

When representatives of the Catholic Church appeal to values in public life, in sexuality and in education, their appeal is often thought to mask hypocrisy — the assertion of high values that it does not practice — and amnesia about its record of betrayal of the principles of good governance in its exercise of authority. The revelations of the royal commission into child abuse hangs over the bishops' meeting.

Both the government and the Catholic Church will be tempted to carry on business as usual, postponing any concerted attempt to deal with the issues of governance they face until the election and the handing down of the findings of the royal commission respectively.

I believe that to delay would be a mistake, especially in the case of the Catholic Church. Even before the royal commission's report is made public there is enough known about the extent, causes and right responses to sexual abuse in the church, and sufficient work done on protocols and safeguarding children to enable an initial response by the whole Australian church.

The question Australians, including many Catholics, ask is whether the bishops and other public representatives of the Catholic Church have the stomach for the changes in governance needed to address the factors that led to child abuse. Delaying action until swamped by the harsh criticism that can be expected from the royal commission will make that action appear too expedient, too little and too late.

What should that action look like? Given the pressure of time, it will need to be symbolic. The details of effective action to respond to the crimes of sexual abuse of children, to respond to its victims, to deal with perpetrators and to safeguard children in future will need to be attended to at a local level. That is where the hard work needs to be done.

What is possible for bishops gathered together in a reasonably short span of time is symbolic action that embodies seriousness in recognising the harm done and the need for response by the whole church. Some of these actions are suggested by the report to the bishops by Catholics for Renewal.

 

"This delegation would show how seriously the Australian Catholic Church takes the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, and show its concern that the universal church should learn from its experience."

 

A significant action would be to send a delegation of bishops and laypeople to Rome to impress on Pope Francis the benefit of the royal commission in establishing the extent and lasting effects of sexual abuse by clergy and religious on children in Australia, to press the importance of addressing the aspects of Catholic culture that promoted sexual abuse and its cover up, and to insist that local clergy and laity should have a strong voice in the selection of bishops.

This delegation would show how seriously the Australian Catholic Church takes the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse and the evil of crimes and cover up that have involved. It would show its concern that the universal church should learn from its experience. It might also respond to the suspicion that the bishops are no more than mouthpieces of the Vatican.

It would also be appropriate for the Bishops to appoint a forthcoming day of repentance and reconciliation in every parish church in Australia, acknowledging the evil of sexual abuse and its concealment, and committing to care for victims and safeguarding of children. Apologies and pledges have been made piecemeal. A Sunday before Christmas dedicated in every Australian church to repentance would express a common mind and will.

Defects in the use of authority associated with clericalism have been criticised both by Pope Francis and by the royal commission. Remedying these will require continuing detailed attention in the formation of clergy and in decision making within the Catholic Church. But given that there will be an Australian Plenary Council in 2020, the bishops could mark the preparations for it by committing throughout Australia to gatherings in which the bishops can listen to lay people speak of their hopes for the Catholic Church. Such meetings would embody a consultative form of leadership.

Such initiatives as these are small things, symbolic in naming priorities and attitudes, but also a brick in building good governance. In it the royal commission will continue to act as a lighthouse warning of past wrecks and promising safe passage.

 


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

 



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Please do not forget clergy sexual misconduct against adults. If it is forgotten now, it will come back to haunt. Like the children abused in the past who found a voice, the adults will, too. As Gerardine Robinson seemed at pains to get across, while the sexual abuse of children needs to be highlighted forever, and not lessened in a single degree, the primary target numbers-wise, of sexual abuse/misconduct by clergy is adults. I any discussion, both need to be addressed because it is, in the end a problem of clergy sexual behaviour and activity in every and any form. Still too difficult to take in...like the sexual abuse of children by clergy was? The time will come when it will have to be 'taken in', again, like the child abuse problem.

Stephen de Weger 05 May 2017

At the very least, the Bishops and congregational leaders could stop using Vatican intransigence as an excuse to delay the conversion of their own practices. True change comes from the grassroots. At this time of crisis, are the Australian churches able to grasp the opportunity offered?

Joan Seymour 05 May 2017

Andrew u have made some good suggestions for the way forward for the Catholic Church Repent for wrongs is very very necessary Redress is also vital to help in repairing People's shattered lives CareLeavers Abused in Catholic orphanages are mostly hidden victims The Catholic Church must acknowledge the cruelty & crimes committed by Nuns to vulnerable children in your orphanages & children's Homes The female predators & enablers have avoided the Spotlight of the Royal Commission Repentance Day - CC must apologise to ALL victims survivors of Catholic Church's for the coverups, the lies,the crimes cruelty & brutality & the loss & truama that Care Leavers who were separated from our siblings & families Those relationships were never to be repaired again All infected on defencesless children in Catholic Orphanages Finally the Catholic Church must apologise to the Australian taxpayer Catholic Church should be on it's knees begging for the Nation's forgiveness ! Big changes are needed in the Catholic Church before U regain many Australians Trust !

Leonie Sheedy 06 May 2017

When I read this fine article I thought of the phrase "facing the music". It happens whether we want it to happen or not. We can dodge and weave but, ultimately, we must face the music. If it's done with seriousness, in actions (not just words) and truth then there's a good chance that those who have been wronged at least can think "maybe they mean what they say". Safe passage takes hard work and good old-fashioned guts.

Pam 06 May 2017

Father Andrew- your comments here are 'spot on'. I have lost confidence and trust in the Australian Catholic bishops- with one exception- to lead us out of an unholy mess. To proceed, I would like to nominate a panel to undertake the task, which will be a challenge. They are Bishop Vincent Long, Andrew Hamilton SJ, Frank Brennan SJ, Michael Whelan SM, Geraldine Doogue, Kathleen McCormack, Kristina Keneally, Francis Sullivan, Peter Wilkinson, Peter Johnstone and Stephen de Weger. I invite readers to submit other candidates

John Casey 06 May 2017

Thanks Andrew! We also need to heed what Francis Sullivan, CEO of the TRUTH JUSTICE HEALING COUNCIL, has said, in relation to the Royal Commission: “For my mind the clearest message is this. If people of good will, the good priests, the willing religious, the enlightened leaders, but more importantly people like you – the engaged and informed Catholics – don’t continue to push for change then, as sure as night follows day, the reactionaries will overcome and nothing will change. If we do not continue to push – and push hard – the impetus for change will fade, inertia will set in, reformists will be shunned, and the victims of what has been the greatest betrayal in the Catholic Church in Australia will remain mired in hopelessness, despair and anger. This is a very dangerous time for the Catholic Church in Australia. If the Church in Australia doesn’t see continuous, concerted change from our leaders driven and backed by an active and demanding Catholic Community, then our Church as a religion will become a marginalized rump, stripped of credibility and relevance, left to preach to an ever aging congregation with eyes on an ever dimming here after.”

Grant Allen 06 May 2017

You are right Andrew that more should be done sooner than later but given that many lay people in a local church did not know someone among them was a perpetrator would much change were they involved in selecting bishops. I agree that to "appoint a forthcoming day of repentance and reconciliation in every parish church in Australia, acknowledging the evil of sexual abuse and its concealment, and committing to care for victims and safeguarding of children" is a step in the right direction as necessary to keep in sight what has occurred and that it needs attention so as to bring about changes to prevent abuse, yet recognise and comfort survivors. Blue Knot day is held on October 24 www.blueknot.org.au with the 2016 theme being 'Together we lead the way to survivor recovery’. I attended an inter faith prayer service last year in Sydney where some who had survived spoke of the journey of healing.

Gordana Martinovich 06 May 2017

This article represents sound common sense, which is something you don't often see in the churches. Institutions qua institutions have an ethos and a built in inertia of their own. Their fallback position is to carry on as normal. There have been very few positive outreaches to the victims in the paedophilia scandal from the churches. The outstanding exception has been the example of Philip Aspinall of Brisbane, both as Archbishop and Anglican Primate. If there were a template as to how to deal with the matter he has provided it. He has the tremendous advantage over his Roman brethren in that he does not take ultimate direction from outside this country but can act as he sees fit, allowing always for due legal process. The Catholic hierarchy are constrained by both their branch office status and that there are, as Kieran Tapsell repeatedly points out, Canon Law restraints on their behaviour which have impeded the way they were/are able to interact with the legal authorities on this matter. One of the key questions intelligent Catholics ask is 'After this Royal Commission, what, if anything, has changed?'

Edward Fido 06 May 2017

The royal commission is not about the catholic church alone - why does the media just cover the catholic church and not other churches - mothers fought for this royal commission alongside others - it is not CLAN's royal commission - it is not one specific family's witch hunt against the catholic church - it is about all Australians and the witch hunt the media have shown is disgraceful - sexual assault against young boy shock horror - of course it is wrong - but what about females - the number of females sexually assaulted by medical professionals in the 1960's - is 50 fold to men in white collars - non pregnant girls residing in institutional care and young pregnant girls - public hospitals are institutions and the royal commission continues to protect these sexual predators and goes after catholic church - young women it is fine for males to sexually abuse young girls - please when will our voices be given equal coverage - shame shame shame shame

Brenda Coughlan 08 May 2017

"... the aspects of Catholic culture that promoted sexual abuse..." Wow!! Do you really mean "promoted"? Surely a word/phrase like "overlooked" or "were blindsided by". "Promoted" is Richard Dawkins or Stephen Fry territory.

Frank 08 May 2017

This has Been going on for far too lng if those in governance have no stomach to really tackle the problem they should be dismissed from governance. And those Who will do something about it including jail tme. Take over. How many more have to comit suicide etc Before the stubborn old men do something. About it. Do they ven care its not Their children. IS it Sorry f yiu feel this is not respectful. Neither what they did is respectful either.

Irena 08 May 2017

@ Brenda Coughlan 08 May 2017 Brenda, I am sure we all know what you're saying. The thing is, in the past people would turn to the church for direction when there were major social issues. This time, when they turned to the church for direction about the sexual abuse of children (and adults) they found the church fully involved itself. Now, the church has to remove the plank from it's own eyes. Sadly, the church has sorely missed a huge opportunity for social/moral leadership. Why...because they tried to cover up their own abuse rather than take the bull by the horns openly and repentantly. This is also why there has been so much focus on the church - it's not a witch-hunt, its a huge social gasp of outrage that this institution that proclaimed more than another, more than the medical, educational etc) that it had the 'words of eternal life', turned out to be just like if not worse than any other human institution. Yes, some will see it as an opportunity to have yet another stab at an institution that has somewhere hurt them deeply in some way, too, but one can also see this 'witch-hunt as some call it, also as an expression of a huge social lament that the church has again let them down.

Stephen de Weger 08 May 2017

Your article is reassuring. I hope that the Bushoos and Archbishops read it and react positively. I am so saddened by the Churches actions. The abuse of children was horrific but other actions of the Church have made people feel left out and off side. I don't know if those actions will ever be redressed except by those clerics aligned with Pope Francis.

Anne McNamara 08 May 2017

@8MAY Stephen, thanks for putting so succinctly what is at the heart of the focus on the Church though there is also an element of avoiding looking how across the board this scourge is leaving no part of society untouched and no one has been able to deal with it appropriately though it is grave that the church has failed in the way it has...and as Stephen states @ 5MAY there is yet another issue to be dealt with... but there is hope if we can stay focused and accept being chastised and use it for our good.

Gordana Martinovich 08 May 2017

The church bears within itself the brokenness of the world and cannot exist apart from it and without this how could it come to understand the sin which it needs to heal in the world. I mean that in a practical sense, if it did not have to live it, how could it find solutions and it is working toward those with the TJHC being one manifestation of this. It takes our prayer and our participation in what we are part of through Baptism, to bring this about and it can involve no stance but humility...the service cannot come from above but from within and working with others. Were the church as visibly perfect as Heaven could any of us bear to be within it? Yet it bears the gift of His presence that Christ has given it and yes it prays for its ownself to be reformed, understanding Christ’s own words that he would remain with his church until the end of time. The task is hard as there is no giving up or passing of the baton. The one who rose from death is the only one who can truly heal this and we are but mere branches of the vine and do recall that some branches need pruning.

Gordana Martinovich 08 May 2017

"... the aspects of Catholic culture that promoted sexual abuse..." Frank if you do not accept 'promoted' as the right word then I respectfully suggest you look at the transcripts of the Royal Commission hearing. 'Aspects of culture' did promote ('move forward'). Surely you would at least accept 'facilitate' or 'encourage'? It is not just that the Church proved incapable of dealing with the problem, as you seem to suggest. Until this is accepted by the Catholic Church as a whole I see little hope for real progress. The culture must change.No amount of compensation or apology should be allowed to mask that need for cultural change.

Margaret 08 May 2017

Thanks, Andy, for such a thoughtful analysis as always. This conference of the bishops is an opportunity for each of them to show the sort of leadership you describe and which is requested in the Open letter which is still open for further signatures at: http://www.catholicsforrenewal.org/open-letter

Peter (PJ) Johnstone 08 May 2017

Thank you for your excellent article. My reflection: it seems to me that in this discourse of where responsibility rests, more consideration needs to be given to the fact that abuse and violence has been and is perpetrated in all institutions, including the family. This, in my view, is evidence that individuals joining institutions bring with them the prejudices and the norms of the society. My point is that all of us in society share the responsibility to: 1) educate each other to take full responsibility for our actions and their consequences: where following orders, being obedient needs to be seen as subordinated to one's principle of right or wrong: respecting self and others at all times being the guiding principle. This does not in anyway excuse the attitudes institutions' leaders, in discussion, but it would encourage every individual in society to be alert and not devolve complete responsibility to someone, anyone in authority; and 2) the energy we spend in assigning blame could be more fruitfully placed in bringing about real change towards educating self-determinant individuals, rather than conforming ones; (not ignoring cases when the individual may be unable to be self-determinant), but certainly fewer people would be vulnerable.

antonina 08 May 2017

You ask, Father Andrew, whether the Catholic bishops have the stomach to change things. Highly unlikely I would think. They have had none for some years in standing up in the public domain in defence of their professed beliefs, in abandoning child and adult education and in response to evil in some members of the Church. The only thing they seem to have any stomach for is kicking out divorced people who remarry who are then denied the Church's institutionalised forgiveness. I wonder if the same applies to the pederasts and paedophiles amongst the professed who did their thing under the umbrella of the Church's protection. The Church certainly needs renewal but whether that renewal requires secularisation and man made morality is another matter. It might be that in some things the Church needs to return to its roots, its very essence, ripped from the garden by some applications of Vatican II.

john frawley 08 May 2017

Excellent. So much of this applies to Anglican Dioceses: Newcastle and especially Perth, where the forces of denial, revisionism, minimisation and obscurantism remain strong and powerful. My call unwaveringly is for reform and transformation: "business as usual" means the Church has learned little, if anything. It would also be a direct slap to Survivors and their families, none of whom are ever likely to forget that the "usual business" of the Church meant abuse and cover-up.

Alistair P D Bain 08 May 2017

Hi Andrew. Well said, however might I suggest a small but very significant edit. Remove prefix "lay" from people using only the people. This small change re empowers the people which in turn will re empower the Catholic Church itself. Small achievable and specific change pointing out that the people are the church, not an uninformed mass outside the tent

David tuke 08 May 2017

A day of repentance could be seen as a substitute for the decade + of church reform called for by this crisis. Better to hold such a day when a set of concrete reforms is identified by a representative body of the church's membership.

Michael Leahy 08 May 2017

No abuse can be excused. Little mention in comments refers to the 85% of abuse that occurs in homes,largely by family members. The Royal Commission realised that it was a too hard basket. Fortunately people can now pursue people, who offend in the courts and thankfully the number of offenders will diminish. I am fully aware that this is poor consolation to those who have been aggrieved in the past.

mick jones 08 May 2017

I agree with John Frawley *(8May) that the church needs to return to roots, but not with his assertion that its essence has been ripped from the garden by some applications of Vatican II, unless he is more specific about that. As I see it, it is the reversal of reforms generated by Vatican II have been a significant contributor to this cankerous scandal, due to vested interests resisting the notion of the church NOT being characterised by the hierarchy, but by the whole people of God. Return to its roots, certainly, but its roots lie not in ernmine robes and pompous reliance on the authority of office, with everyone else subservient, but to a dedication to a life of service. Pope Francis has been consistently urging this, but recalcitrants persist. At the local level in Australia, the irony will not escape many people of the current crying foul (pre-budget) over funding for Catholic schools in the light of revelations from the Royal Commission; the Church's moral capital has been laid waste by a blind and spineless leadership.

Dennis Green 08 May 2017

Catholics were certainly not the only ones condemned during the Royal Commission – but that is unimportant. The crucial thing is to accept the call for change; what other groups do is their business. If we ignore to Fr Hamilton’s plea for transformation, the whole exercise will have been futile, and the work of champions such as Bishop Vincent Long and Francis Sullivan will have been wasted. As a teacher, I often heard the excuse “Everyone else was doing it too” but so what? Our church was at fault, and our church must change. Local action is important, but so is a universal response. Blaming Rome is passé, and if canon law fails us here, our bishops must acknowledge this and amend the rules. Our reaction must not be based on self-serving laws. The forthcoming report will embarrass Catholics but by responding maturely, we will survive. Let us pray earnestly – for victims’ healing, for Bishops’ strong leadership and for perpetrators’ repentance. Finally, let us pray for our fellow Catholics to retain their faith in a church that has, once again, proved to be imperfect. Let us not despair because of our weakness - through our brokenness we can serve the world.

Dennis Sleigh 08 May 2017

What about the children of priests who have to lie about their parentage all their lives? When do they get acknowledgement and apology?

Hester Child 08 May 2017

"(Both the Government and…) the Catholic Church will be tempted to carry on business as usual. The Elephant in the Room that no one wants to say out loud, is that the Catholic Church, like every other Established Religion, had painted itself into a corner by promoting the idea that it was directly founded by God as the one and only true path up the Mountain to God. This was credible when it seemed that the Earth was a unique home made especially for mankind, and that God dwelt just above the clouds and governed everything for the promotion of a Chosen few. Now that we realise God governs billions of galaxies and every person, according to Constant and Universal Laws, the shock of facing this has left us, like detribalised natives, disoriented and bereft of the many ‘certainties’ that we had relied on to guide us. Adapting to this new situation is difficult, but we must adapt or die. Or we can adapt and thrive. John Casey has nominated a fine panel to help us all undertake the task.

Robert Liddy 08 May 2017

Dennis G. Some misapplications of Vatican II. 1, The destruction of the rich liturgy of the celebration of the Sacraments of the church. 2 The conversion of the House of God into community meeting halls where reverence to God is no longer required, similar to a shopping centre on Sunday morning, Unfortunately the parish Church does not serve coffee or breakfast so many parishioners prefer the shopping centre to the Church. 3. The loss of universality in that we can no longer attend the Mass, the essential of Catholicism and indeed Christianity,anywhere in world and engage with it regardless of the local language. 4. The abandonment of some of the most uplifting sacred music ever written, I.e., the abandonment of the instrument of lifting the human spirit towards God. 5. The abandonment of the concept of sin. 6. The emergence of gurus re-writing the word of God i.e., of course, if we believe that the scriptures do represent the word of God. 7, That when Christ died on the Cross he did so not equally for all but with a preferential option for the poor. And there are many more! However, there were many good changes as well. And believe it or not, I have always been a supporter of Vatican II but an opponent of those who want reform that matches their own desires.

john frawley 08 May 2017

Andrew, I absolutely agree with your insightful and practical suggestions. May it come to pass!

Yvonne Harte 09 May 2017

Hester, that's what I'm talking about (see my top post). The church hasn't honestly tackled the issue of sexual misconduct until people like you and your parents are acknowledged. If the church does not do this then they will be seen as fake in their desire to overcome their sexual problems. If the only sexual problems they are going to tackle are the ones they are forced to, then their motivation for tackling even these will forever be held in suspicion. I am more than willing to help them understand this misunderstood and perhaps covered up are of clergy sexual misconduct.

Stephen de Weger 09 May 2017

Why this presumption of guilt?. If the laity doesn't defend their priests... then who will?. The priests have taken an oath of obedience, and cannot defend themselves. Based upon a lifetime of experience my considered opinion is that this is a witch-hunt, No matter how well it is disguised as something else,

malcolm harris 09 May 2017

'It [a delegation] might also respond to the suspicion that the bishops are no more than mouthpieces of the Vatican'. But that's the problem, Andrew. They are the mouthpieces of the Vatican and for them to express, in public, any contrary views is to court removal. Until they, as a group, are prepared to speak out publicly, and then say to the Vatican fire one of us and we will all resign, anything that they say to the Vatican in private will be ineffectual. That surely is the nature of the beast that is the institutional Church where all authority is centralised and where obedience is mandatory?

Ginger Meggs 09 May 2017

I find it ironic that the article attempts to address the issue of the failure of the church to tackle the issues behind church sexual abuse, yet my comment yesterday was criticising church policy/teaching was not deemed worthy by the moderator to be published. As someone who has experienced clerical sexual abuse firsthand, I find this approach frightening, and wonder why ES is so fearful of allowing frank and open discussion.

AURELIUS 09 May 2017

Sincere apologies Hester. I may have made an incorrect assumption that you were talking about your own situation, rather than a general statement. Either way, what you say is very true, indeed.

Stephen de Weger 09 May 2017

Andrew, when writing as an insider to an institution that has had a searing lens placed upon it by the State I think it is absolutely vital to acknowledge that your views will always have an institutional often unconscious bias. Although I have not kept accurate files in my research on Case Studies I am sure that the Jesuit Order itself has had some difficult statistics to confront. I think your piece is a good start but it seems to me that symbolic gestures of atonement should be survivor driven. Ask survivors what they want to see. Talk with us listen to us and walk with us. Not all survivors are so angry that they refuse to talk with the Churches. The most vital image I have is the protesters outside the Royal Commission hearings. And those outside the hearing rooms. I am sure Fr Brennan is still regretting his interactions with some of those secondary victims. Lastly when you talk about delegations to Rome you forgot something vital. Ask Survivors to walk with you on that journey. I wish you and Eureka Street the best of luck in your responses to the Final Findings of the Royal Commission they will be devastating. Eureka Street is a unique Mast Head within the media space. You have the chance to use this masthead to fight against the reactionary elements within your Church and make a difference. Compassion to all in the storm of the Royal Commission. Richie. Survivors and Friends" . sv-wa.com

richie 10 May 2017

Andrew The Church has strayed a long way from the teachings of Christ in Scripture. Jesus was very clear that a child represents the values of God's Kingdom. The sanctity of children has never been taught in seminaries or recognised in general society. It was the perogative of the Apolostic church to uphold the teachings of Christ and society would have followed those values. But what we have is clericalism, celibacy and lack of accountability as the yardstick for Church life. None of these represents the values taught by Christ.

Trish Martin 10 May 2017

In response to some of the assertions made by Brenda Coughlan I would like to point out that thecRoyal Commission has not singled the Catholic Church out as the sole abuser or faith based institution that abused innocent children. All the churches, charities and state government departments raped, bashed, and abused innocent people. The Salvation Army in who's care I was in were also major child molesters as were the Anglicans, Uniting and the rest. Nor is it right to say that Care Leavers Australaisian Network (CLAN) claim ownership of the Royal Commission; CLAN comes to the fore simply because it supports the largest group of people that all churches abused whilst in their care. In reading this article though I still wonder why churches have to be told to show repentance and seek reconciliation. I thought pride was one of the seven deadly sins yet it seems that pride, arrogance, a belief in infallibility and a failure by all churches to recognise they had done wrong is still a pervading concept. All churches, not only the Catholics have lost the right to lecture on morality and ethics until they begin to act morally,honestly, compassionately and ethically.

James Luthy 11 May 2017

I am able to recall such happenings when I was an 8yr.old Altar Boy and felt a walking stick pulling me towards the duty Curate after morning Mass.I roared out loud,the Sacristy Door was open and he began to panic.I yelled out that "i will tell my dad"He then said that he was having a joke.I put this in my "memory Bank"until appx.78 years ago.The commission awakened my memory.I christened the problem "the Irish Disease".The remedy is a superior interviewing technique and the resignation of all involved in the "cover up" no exceptions, whatsoever! N.J.K.

Nev.Kelly 11 May 2017

I share Stephen de Weger's concerns; I would never for a moment suggest that sexual relationships between consenting adults and sexual abuse of children are equivalents, but what I see of priests who share in sexual relationships with adults fills me with concern. If a priest invites a partner to enter into a sexual relationship on the understanding that he will never leave the priesthood, and that his partner will never be acknowledged publicly but will make him/herself available to fit into the spaces which remain after the priest has kept his life-style intact, is this not itself a form of abuse? It is certainly based on a power imbalance and clerical arrogance, and the understanding that other priests will join in helping deceive the laity about the relationship in solidarity with the priest who breaks his vow of celibacy recurs again here. I believe that only when both marriage and celibacy become optional for priests will the laity see them again as people of integrity.

Gwynith Young 11 May 2017

To Stephen and Gordana - I fail to see how you can call this witch hunt when it's merely he bringing to justice of people who have committed grave criminal offenses. The real witch hunt is the moral condemnation of consenting adults wish express their love for each in ways that secular society no longer regards as a criminal offence (ie unmarried couples, divorced couples, LGBTI couples). The church no longer has a monopoly on morality. Secular law has spoken, Respect it.

AURELIUS 11 May 2017

We have no right to comfort ourselves with the notion we're on the level of any governemt, we are to be held more accountable than anyone else with "the man from upstairs" on our side being the one true church and empowered by the Holy Spirit .

Lynne Newington 12 May 2017

Hi again, Aurelius. Please know I see in you someone also seeking truth, and validation. You mention the criminal law code and the assumption is that if something is no longer against the law then it's OK. This is a misunderstanding of the role of law. Law is not a moral guide as much as a form of protection. When adultery became decriminalised, this did not mean it became legal to commit adultery or that adultery was then OK. Frankly, I do not understand secular thinking on this topic. Marriage is a contract and it requires an officially recognised celebrant. One would think that breaking that contract by committing adultery would be 'against the law'. And adultery especially when it leads to divorce, does cause harm and pain for adults and children otherwise half of the stuff coming out of Hollywood wouldn't have an audience. But to bring it back to the 'Judeo-Christian' context, 'thou shalt not commit adultery' is a prohibition against that act, because it causes harm and breaks down community life. However, if one was caught up in adultery in some way, these are the people that Jesus reached out to. But he also said, "go and sin no more". Why, because sex sins were dirty or made him feel yukky? No, because he knew that to find true peace, and real love, one had to develop their art of real and mature loving. What does the secular criminal justice system have to offer regarding Love?

Stephen de Weger 13 May 2017

Hi Stephen - I'm not saying all issues of sexual morality can clearly be codified as either secular/religious code - but sexual abuse of children clearly breaks all the rules/laws and is rightly a criminal/mortal offence. As with the matter of adultery, sex before marriage - I'm certainly not claiming that cheating and promiscuity are morally neutral. But there are situations where the primacy of one's informed conscious comes into play in areas that on face value may be at odds with church catechism.

AURELIUS 19 May 2017

Thanks for the clarification, Aurelius. I agree with you although I am starting to wonder about the whole area of conscience...I'm sure you could imagine many a cleric becoming sexually involved with someone and having a 'clear conscience'. I just don't understand what 'informed conscience' means anymore. It's almost a nonsense. Who or what informs our conscience, and more so, what role does our unconscious play, especially when we have not dealt with such things as past traumas? Human's are brilliant at unintentional self-deception because of this. Just another major philosophical question I'd love to spend more time exploring one day. But let's not get started on that issue - it's such a complex minefield.

Stephen de Weger 19 May 2017

No, Stephen, I'm not referring to clerics at all - simply 2 committed adults with no other obligations, in a loving relationship outside of marriage,

AURELIUS 21 May 2017

Very important observations here to be re-emphasised: 1. Yes, humans are far from perfect - but this is NOT to excuse even one incidence of child abuse - regardless of the fact that the numbers of child abuse by sexual predators are far far greater among other groups, eg doctors, lawyers, dentists (all who also are bound by the Hippocratic Oath to do no evil), sports coaches, teachers, scout masters, and mainly among step-fathers (in re-constituted families), fathers, etc. 2. The whole community, indeed all society MUST recommit ourselves to our inherited Judaeo-Christian moral framework which automatically includes the Hipppocratic Oath, and which still surpasses all other moral codes of conduct. Even though God’s laws are already “written on our minds and hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 11:19, etc), devotion to duty and to dedicate “our minds to higher purposes” takes self-discipline, self-restraint, dedication to a life of service and growing a stronger spine. 3. Three of the last Popes have urged victims to go straight to the Police so that perpetrators can be charged ASAP; measures put in place immediately to support and compensate genuine victims (while weeding out the numerous vexatious claims for monetary gain and to discredit the Church). 4. Very importantly, if a far more prompt self-evident response does not take place, and if justice is not seen to be being done, the response by the public will be one of contempt and it will be our own fault if we the innocent ones are vilified and public support withdrawn. Having learnt and dealt with the valuable lessons, we can go on to serve humanity and remain THE most effective “force for good” in the world.

Mark 22 May 2017

Stephen de Weger (19.5.17) says: “… don't understand what 'informed conscience' means ….” “Informed Conscience” means “not taking a law/regulation/ convention at face value without further investigation” It means that Catholics have an obligation to keep up their education and examine more deeply the reasons for their moral code; how it can be a force for “the wider common good” in the world; and how reckless noncooperation or defiance can bring harm to another person/society and be in defiance to Christ’s teaching of “love one another as I love you” (John 13:34)

Mark 22 May 2017

Hi Mark. A few things. I do know what the teaching says an informed conscience means - I always have, having been raised on Vatican II. I meant I don't know what it means on a deeper psychological human level. Once one starts to learn how complex and even self-deceptive we can be the concept of informed conscience means little, at least at an idealistic level. I suppose it makes no sense at all unless one first accepts the teachings of some greater authority, that which does the 'informing', the base line by which we measure our own understanding. I just think that such a concept now has lost most of its meaning when one sees particularly liberal Catholics and especially clergy going their own way in the name of following even their 'informed' conscience. As for it having meaning for non-Christian/non-religious people, in today's world of personal relativity, and situational ethics, it's an absolute nonsense, logically speaking. In the end, there can logically never be any 'supremacy' of conscience, only a supremacy of law and authority - the 'informer/s' who/which inform our conscience. I've run out of room here so will get to my other points in the next comment.

Stephen de Weger 23 May 2017

Secondly, I would like to challenge two of your 'statistics'. If you were just making sweeping statements to get a point across, rather than making an informed statement based on statistics, you need to say as much. Firstly, I question your comment that "child sexual abuse by sexual predators are far far greater among other groups". It's virtually impossible at the moment to establish clear figures, especially when one includes sexual activity with both adults and children, not often clearly delineated in discussions about prevalence. Tschan (2014) (http://www.amazon.in/Professional-Sexual-Misconduct-Institutions-2014/dp/0889374449) has attempted a basic summary. In, clergy are not that different from any other group (of professionals). Yes, when you include family members, that's a whole different statistic and needs to be seen as such. I just think 'people in glass churches need to be careful of throwing stones'. The second issue is with the word 'numerous' "while weeding out the numerous vexatious claims for monetary gain and to discredit the Church"...appearing in the statement, "Three of the last Popes have urged victims to go straight to the Police …..etc”. I seriously question both these statements in their accuracy. From where do you get your ‘numerous’ figure? I’d also love to see exactly where ‘the last three popes have said what you claim them to have said. In the previous comment I questioned Liberal Catholic thinking, now I am question conservative Catholic thinking. Much of what you write here has merit but that merit has been sullied by a programmed response common to conservative Catholics seeking to uphold traditional teachings (not wrong in itself, just questionable in how its done).

Stephen de Weger 24 May 2017

Hi again, Mark. A statistic from the Royal Commission has just come to me. It suggests that institutional (child) sexual abuse is higher in church institutions than in secular institutions: "32 percent of survivors who have attended a private session reported abuse in a government institution. 10 percent of survivors reported abuse in a secular institution. 59 percent reported abuse in a religious institution" (see http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-centre/speeches/safe-as-churches.aspx). Whether you regard 'institutions' as walled buildings or organisations, that's another issue. Either way, I suspect, this statistic still applies and one that applies to sexual misconduct with adults as well. Again, Tschan (2014) provides some good material in this regard. Justice McClellan does support your comment that child abuse is far greater in the family and is a major social issue that still needs serious addressing; a point with which I totally agree. The more I study criminology, the greater the connection between child abuse in all its forms and the resultant depression or aggression which manifests as a result becomes painfully obvious. Families, family life so need to be strengthened and supported, not done away with as some are currently suggesting (see http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/new-family-values/6437058). In this the Church (and good psychology) has got it completely right. Fidelity between parents for the sake of children, and fidelity to their vows by clergy, are all ideals totally worth the struggle, and for their own personal development as human beings as much as for the sake of providing stable and loving environments for children so they can grow into healthy adults. The thing is, the Church has now lost its authority to even suggest this. It's a major problem, one I seriously doubt that a synod comprising mostly of non-parents would be able to meaningfully address.

Stephen de Weger 24 May 2017

@23MAY Stephen I have to agree with you regarding our capacity for self-deception twisting what informed conscience is meant to be about - guiding toward a healed perspective rather than wilfulness...and whether it's possible to achieve in a practical sense given how it has been used to justify all manner of erroneous behaviour and @11MAY Aurelius, I've never called it a witch hunt nor do I perceive calls for justice to be such... @8MAY thanks Peter for the reference to the open letter... time may have passed but worth a look...still open!

Gordana Martinovich 04 June 2017

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