Catholic Church – catch-up and cover-up

The sad saga of the Catholic Church in its response to sexual abuse goes on and on and on. Pope Francis is yet to grasp the nettle.

Invariably it is people outside the hierarchy and clergy who are responding and calling for action. The latest has been former NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, who spoke in the NSW Parliament on this issue on 17 June 2014. He called on Fr Brian Lucas, the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference to be stood down in light of the report of the Cunneen Commission into alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland/Newcastle. Barry O’Farrell has a particular interest in this issue as he had appointed the Cunneen Commission.

In parliament, Barry O’Farrell added. “On the day the [Cunneen] report was made public, Bishop Wright issued a statement that suggested the report would be scrutinised, its findings taken on board and action taken. Yet last week, despite the damning exposition by the commission of Monsignor Hart’s lack of action in 1993, Bishop Wright simply stood him aside from advisory positions in the diocese. As a response to such a damning enquiry it was completely underwhelming “

Australian bishops just don’t get it. It has been the same around the world.

It was the secular media in Boston in 2001 and not the church leadership or church media that first drew attention to the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston under the ‘leadership’ of Cardinal Law. In Ireland it was a succession of royal commissions and enquiries that exposed the scandal within the Catholic Church.

In Australia in 1997 Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called for action on sexual abuse problems in Australia. He was disowned and rebuked by his fellow bishops. It was a parliamentary enquiry in Victoria that told us last November “No representative of the Catholic Church directly reported the crimes committed by its members to the police … There is simply no justification for this position.” Then there was Cardinal Pell before the royal commission in Sydney. He has now gone to Rome but there is great damage left in his wake.

As Fr Frank Brennan has said “Clearly the church itself cannot be left alone to get its house in order.”

Our bishops, who are appointed through a secretive and manipulative process, are failing us badly. They are not responsive to the people of the church.

One action which pastoral bishops could take would be to call urgent synods in their dioceses to tackle this problem of sexual abuse and the systemic and cultural factors which give rise to it. The Second Vatican Council recommended that synods should ‘flourish’. They have died of misuse in Australia. Only five bishops have convened a diocesan synod since 1965. The Melbourne archdiocese has not had a synod since 1916 and the Sydney archdiocese since 1951. Synods are a long-established and traditional form of collegial discussion on matters of doctrine, faith, morals and discipline. A flourishing and participatory regime of diocesan synods would enhance the accountability of bishops and improve the performance of the whole diocese. Representative synods with half of the membership from lay people would be far more knowledgeable in identifying and dealing with such issues as sexual abuse.

Our church leadership is failing us. We are tired of continual catch-up and cover-up.

Together with colleagues, we submitted a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This submission can be found on my website. Go to top left-hand of this blog, click on website and then click on religion folder. The submission can also be found on the website of the Royal Commission.

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John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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