This is the best effort at an apology so far and “the leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia” are to be congratulated, finally. They have been dragged, fighting and squealing, to their knees, no, to their bellies, but eventually a thorough and unqualified commitment statement has been published and read to the faithful at every parish Mass on Sunday 24 November. I heard it and it produced a great sigh of relief in me and in those united in prayer with me. The sadness, the horror, the anger, the shame have been all pervasive, like a fog low over the landscape. They have hovered there in my heart, in my mind for the past few years, and the scandal continues to besmirch my image of Christ’s immaculate bride. But at last, some acceptance, some unqualified response, some expression of guilt, of humility, of understanding. The Justice and Truth Commission under the guidance of Francis Sullivan, as well as the bishops and senior clergy of Australia are to be congratulated. At last they have got something right.
They have stated clearly, and without blaming the secular press, alienated Catholics, money-grubbing victims or their faith-less and hostile opponents, that –
- Sexual abuse of a child by a priest is a crime.
- Sexual abuse of a child by any Church personnel is indefensible.
- Sexual abuse by priests or anyone associated with the Church is a fact of which the whole Church in Australia is deeply ashamed.
- The Church fully and unreservedly acknowledges the devastating, deep and ongoing impact of sexual abuse on the lives of victims and their families, and further acknowledges that many victims were not believed when they were telling the truth.
- The Church also acknowledges that, in some cases, those in authority concealed and covered up what they knew to be true, moved perpetrators to another place and enabled them to continue offending, or failed to report the allegations to the police. This behaviour is indefensible.
- The Church was too anxious to protect her reputation and the reputation of her priests and her other personnel rather than protect its children and their families. This behaviour is also inexcusable.
- The Church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the whole community.
The leaders of the Church went on to express their deep sorrow for this whole dirty mess and to apologise to all those who have been harmed and betrayed. They committed themselves to repair the wrongs suffered.
In any other organization, the leaders would be submitting their letters of resignation; the authorities who appointed them (and without any real consultation) would be demanding their resignation, except that Rome and the Vatican were themselves deeply implicated in the whole smelly catastrophe. And in any company, business, government agency or secular institution, from the United Nations Organization to a local university or school, the shareholders, the members, the foot-soldiers would be holding protest meetings, calling out for heads to roll, or just walking away in disgust. These leaders are asking for forgiveness and a vote of confidence in the board. Well, let’s wait and see.
The problem is that most, if not all, of those in the firing-line, are dead, or at least comfortably retired – beyond the reach of the troops. Nevertheless, there are steps which can be taken to restore some confidence in the shareholders.
There has to be a better method for the selection of the bishops and clergy who minister in our dioceses and parishes; and they have to be better educated.
The selection process has to be much more transparent; the criteria for assessment spelt out clearly – and if the list of Episcopal requirements includes an oath of unquestioning loyalty to the Vatican, let it be spelt out for all to see; a panel of assessors has to be established within the diocese and in each parish, including a solid reinforcement of ordinary, local men and women to give their opinion and make their contribution. Appointments from on high are not good enough. Recent experience has shown them to be somewhere on a spectrum between lame and calamitous.
Then, after a proper selection process, there has to be a school for new bishops and parish priests, some kind of formal education process to ensure the candidate is sensible to and aware of community needs and expectations, aware of their obligations to society in general, to the poor, to children, to the Christian community, free from an over-riding loyalty and subservience to Rome.
In the meantime, as well as congratulating the leaders of the Church for their act of sorrow and sincere purpose of amendment, let’s all offer a sincere word of profound gratitude to –
- The brave victims of sexual abuse who told their stories, exposed their broken lives and who were so often met with disbelief, with a cold shoulder.
- Bishop Geoff Robinson whose life as a human being and as a priest has been made miserable by many of his brother bishops who opposed his message and resisted the bleeding obvious for so long.
- The energetic faceless ones who persisted in exposing the scandals on the website of Broken Rites.
- The members of the secular press, of those who worked on various ABC programs and members of other television teams. David Marr deserves a special vote of thanks for his consistent and high-quality work, and Joanne McCarthy, the Newcastle journalist, for her commitment to the cause.
- Deirdre Grusovin – remember her and the shellacking she received?
- Julia Gillard for establishing the Royal Commission and Tony Abbott for supporting her.
- Those responsible for establishing the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry and the members of the parliament who presided at the hearings and prepared such a powerful report.
- A special vote of gratitude to Peter Fox of Newcastle of whom it was said that he involved himself too personally in the pedophile crisis in and around Newcastle and became entangled in the mess. If it were so, pity the bishops and clergy did not become personally involved years, decades before the valiant Peter Fox. It was he and Joanne McCarthy who almost single-handedly exposed the disease and lanced the boil. Thank you Peter Fox. Well done.