Your graces and my lord bishops of Australia: are you listening?

Mar 8, 2021

Ok. That’s it. Time to stand up. The alarm has sounded. Rub the sleep from your eyes, take off your embroidered nightshirts, do a few stretches and let’s get moving. No shilly-shallying. No dilly-dallying. Come on, just do it. Get out of bed. There’s work to be done. And the whole family’s depending on you to get going. Grace Tame is calling you out.

Each of you was called to make as much noise as possible. That’s your job. Prophesying and preaching – out loud – and from every pulpit in the land. There’s much to be done – refugees, the homeless, care of the elderly, support for the mentally ill, people living on the poverty line, family violence and single mothers in distress, the cruel, immoral power of big money, and of course, the many victims of your paedophile priests.

On Tuesday, I sat riveted to a chair in front of the ABC, entranced by a young woman addressing the Press Club in Canberra. At the age of 16, she had been groomed relentlessly and sexually abused by her maths teacher at a private school in Tasmania. She was recently been appointed Australian of the Year.

I looked carefully but I didn’t see any of you bishops in the crowd at the Press Club – not even Your Grace from Canberra, or the superabundantly qualified Archbishop of Sydney. Absent again. Absent to a man from the final session of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse when the best of you, those with an exalted status, all you Graces, should have put in an appearance. Now you’ve all missed out on one of the principal events of the 2021 calendar.

I was listening attentively to what the young woman was saying and watching those in the audience, hardened journalists and social commentators, fighting back their tears. And not an episcopal tear to be seen. Hearing her noisy passion, I could not help but reflect on the tame response, presumably bullied by the Vatican to a man, you have all made to the crisis of paedophilia within your divinely established institution.

If you could accept a little piece of simple advice from an old friend who knows your world so well, you should put down your prayer and theology books, sit quietly and listen attentively to the blunt message shouted out of the Press Club for Australia to hear. You should get out of the bubble supported by your distorted principles of loyalty to the institution, by your cover-up culture, and start whipping the predators as Jesus did the money changes in the temple and show some concern and compassion to the weak and wounded. You should turn an episcopal ear to the survivors and their families, and absorb the sorrowful stories they have to tell.

The audience in Canberra heard a compelling message delivered by a neophyte – a message that you should have been shouting from the mountain 10, 15, 20 years ago. But after so much provocation, there has been no episcopal voice loud enough for me to hear. No noise – and noise is what Grace is demanding – and what a prophetic name her parents gave her at birth. Jumping up and down, shouting your outrage and condemnations from the pulpit and in the secular squares. Giving a name and a face to the nasty groomers and perpetrators of crimes. Listening to the voices of the survivors. She was telling you (and society) that you must confront the problem head-on. There’s no other way. She spoke of abuse of power and of a cover-up culture within the secular community. Does this ring any bells for you?

Please desist from telling your clerical workers that as priests, they are ontologically different to other mortals. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone – and it is clear that they are not. Stop dressing them up in cassocks and clericalizing them, removing them from society, and stop protecting the evil ones in their midst. Get your heads out from under your arms (or wherever you have them hidden) and stand up for the survivors for a change.

In Canberra, Grace Tame was calling out, loudly, for authentic value-driven leadership – just what you all should be doing. If any of you had been there, you would have heard her say that however difficult it might be to speak out in the open about those terrible perpetrators and their shady deeds, the lonely, humiliating trauma of sexual assault and its lifelong effects are so much more horrible. She knows because it happened to her. Lives ruined. Death by suicides. Drug addictions and alcohol-induced comas to suppress shameful memories. Feelings of unresolved anger, of guilt and shame. Mistrust of those like you and members of your team, all in positions of trust. Understandable hatred and aggression towards your church. Lifelong suspicion of men’s intentions. Mothers simply driven to distraction.

Grace Tame is young, without any special qualifications that I know of – except that she has been through hell and now has fire in her belly – and she is only a woman. As St Thomas Aquinas taught his students, women are not pre-eminent enough to be inducted into the giddy heights of the presbyterate. Each of you archbishops and bishops are lucky to have been born a male, with the paraphernalia required for ordination and which gives you a pre-eminence. Each one of you is a senior member of your wandering, wayward church, in many cases grey old men – and mysteriously (in view of what has been revealed),  you all still enjoy the platform of leadership – and yet, almost to a man, you have been paralysed into silence.

Tuesday was a profound moment in Australian history, and at least some of you should have been there to hear the message, to witness the speaker’s passion and contend with the noise Grace was making. Sexual violence towards girls from flash private schools, towards women in the Canberra bubble. Sexual grooming of children. Sexual assaults. Sexual harassment – and of course clerical paedophilia as well as a misogynistic faux-theological ideology which rests at the heart of your religious institution. You all have a lot to deal with at your annual episcopal conference and at the upcoming Plenary Council.

In all humility, you should seek guidance from the Australian of the Year. Take off your pectoral crosses, throw away your episcopal rings and remove the red braid from around your cassocks (your Jesus never wore anything like that clobber) – get off your high horses, come down into the real world and request a consultation and grace-filled wisdom of a noisy survivor. Engage the services of Grace Tame as an extraordinary presenter at your meeting.

As Jesus told us, the time is now. You haven’t a moment to lose. Start making noise in Rome, in your towns, among the members of your communities, from your pulpits and in public squares. There is much to be done to rectify the devil’s work.

And my Lords and Your Graces, I don’t regret being so blunt in my message to you – I am elderly and noisy, but someone has to hit you over the head and stun you back into the real world. Just get on with it.

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