FRANK BRENNAN. Let’s be less shrill about Church-State relations

I had the good pleasure of celebrating Easter masses out in the country — Adaminaby and Nimmitabel in the Snowy country. At Adaminaby we had a full church and a very happy baptism. At Nimmitabel, the numbers were very modest but we delighted in the peace and tranquility of the Easter full moon. Upon returning to the city I was greeted by the Murdoch headline: ‘Christianity under attack: Archbishop Anthony Fisher’.

Our Dominican preacher archbishop definitely proclaimed a strong Easter warning. In part he was responding to the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and in part to some of the 16,000 submissions to the Ruddock review on religious freedom which have been published on the government website.

Being on the Ruddock panel, it would of course not be appropriate for me to comment on any particular submissions at this time. But I was shocked by the Archbishop’s shrill tone when he said, ‘we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia. Powerful interests now seek to marginalise religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life … We may not always be as free as we are now to evangelise and baptise as Jesus mandated at the first Easter.’

During lent we had the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull venting his frustrations with the states being slow to sign up to the proposed national redress scheme for the victims of child sexual abuse in institutions. Turnbull turned the spotlight on the churches rather than the recalcitrant states, saying: ‘If a church or a charity or an institution doesn’t sign up, I hope they will be shamed. We’ll be using the megaphones we have to encourage them to sign up, and I hope you all are too. I’m sure that if it’s a church, their parishioners and members of their congregations will be doing so.’

This shrill use of megaphones by the leaders of church and state in their respective pulpits is not helpful. In the wake of the royal commission, there is a lot of painstaking work to be done ensuring that all institutions are child safe, and ensuring justice for survivors. Though the royal commission ran for five years, it has left a lot of unanswered questions. Before the royal commission was set up, many of us were calling for state assistance to the Catholic Church because the statistics on abuse in the Church seemed to be off the scale and needing clear explanation and corrective action.

Speaking at the Law Justice Awards dinner in Parliament House Sydney back in October 2012 before Julia Gillard had decided to set up a royal commission, I had said to the assembled lawyers and politicians, ‘Whatever our religion or none, whatever our love or loathing of the Catholic Church, what is to be done in the name of law and justice? Clearly, the Church itself cannot be left alone to get its house in order. That would be a wrongful invocation of freedom of religion in a pluralist, democratic society. The state may have a role to play. As our elected politicians prudentially decide how best to proceed, they need assistance from lawyers committed to justice, not lawyers acting primarily to protect the Church or to condemn it.’

At that time, Professor Patrick Parkinson, an acknowledged national legal expert in the field, had conducted an initial study comparing reporting rates of abuse in the Catholic and Anglican Churches. I said, ‘If the Anglican and Catholic figures are statistically comparable, we all need to know the explanation for the discrepancy. If there be particular problems in the Catholic Church, they need to be identified for the good of all citizens, not just Catholics.’

Five years on, we know a lot more, but there’s still much we don’t know about the figures. 35.7 per cent of survivors who came forward and who were interviewed by the royal commission said that the abuse took place in an institution managed by a group associated with the Catholic Church. 32.5 per cent of survivors who came forward and who were interviewed by the royal commission said that the abuse took place in a government-run institution. 22.4 per cent of survivors who came forward and who were interviewed by the royal commission said that the abuse took place in an institution managed by a group associated with a religious institution other than the Catholic Church. 10.5 per cent of survivors who came forward and who were interviewed by the royal commission said that the abuse took place in a non-government, non-religious institution.

Gerard Henderson has made the point that ‘due to the systemic Catholic education system, which was not reflected in other faiths, Catholics must have accounted for around 80 per cent of children educated in a religious setting in Australia. Catholics also had a much higher percentage of orphanages and hospitals than like institutions which operated in a religious setting.’ He asked Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald if the royal commission had drilled down into these figures. Fitzgerald replied: ‘Regrettably there are no historic prevalence studies in Australia but we recommended such be undertaken in the future.’

It’s a bit like what happened with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. An Aboriginal walking down the street was ten times more likely than any other Australian to die in custody. But once in custody, a prisoner, whether Aboriginal or not, was just as likely to die in custody. It was just that an Aboriginal was ten times more likely to be in jail in the first place. How much more likely was it in the past that a child would be abused in a Catholic institution than in a non-Catholic institution? How did this rate compare with the likelihood of a child being in a Catholic institution in the first place? It would have been helpful to have the answers to these questions.

Robert Fitzgerald spoke recently on a panel at a Catholic Social Services conference. A Catholic, and still a Catholic despite all he has heard and experienced these last five years, he said:

‘It is clear that in so many institutions that when children needed love, they were met with hostility. There was simply no love present in their lives. When they returned to the Church to seek justice, they were met with indifference, hostility and unjust practices. And instead of a Church walking humbly with its God based on the messages of the gospel they found an arrogant Church. A church that placed its own reputation above the interests of those victims and survivors. And did so knowingly and willingly in a way as to cause further harm to many of those victims.’

Much of the media attention at the royal commission case studies relating to the Catholic Church focused on the failure of church leadership back in the 1970s and 1980s and on the secrecy within the Church, precluding the reporting of abuse to state authorities.

The good news for everyone is that since then, state authorities, especially police forces and child protection agencies have changed. The media and politicians are now more alive to the issues. Even if there had been little change in the Church, it would no longer be possible for the Church authorities to act as they did a couple of generations ago. This is not a reason for nonchalance. But it should give us pause before we become too shrill about changes in church-state relations. There is now a need to look more dispassionately at what reforms are being proposed.

During the royal commission, there was a lot of simplistic media coverage which left the viewer thinking that all would have been well if only church authorities had reported matters to the police or if only priests were not bound by the seal of the confessional. But the evidence was altogether different. In fact, the commission in its case studies reported only one case of a child sex abuser using the confessional to try and escape the processes of the law. Even that case would not be covered by the seal of the confessional, given the improper purpose of ‘the penitent’. The usual case considered by the royal commission was not a penitent confessing but a victim disclosing abuse by another.

Fr Ian Waters, the distinguished canon lawyer who appeared before the royal commission to explain the operation of the seal of the confessional, has now written: ‘It is simply quite incorrect to say, “Whatever I tell a priest in a confessional will never be revealed by him to anyone”. More accurately, (the canon law) states that whatever sins of a penitent confessed by the penitent to the priest during a celebration of the sacrament of penance must never be revealed by the priest to anyone — a very different matter.’

And what’s more, it hardly if ever happens. Pedophiles don’t think they have committed any wrong. Even if they were to confess, they are more than likely to describe their offending in very generic terms. And if they really did want to confess without being reported to the authorities, they (like any other penitent) could present for confession in a confessional behind a veil where neither the victim’s identity nor theirs would ever be revealed.

On the last day of the royal commission, Justice McClellan in his brief closing remarks made four poignant observations usually overlooked by those seeking simplistic solutions or explanations for the past wrongs specially of the Catholic Church:

‘Just over 8000 people have come and spoken with a Commissioner in a private session. For many of those people, it has been the first time they have told their story. Most have never been to the police or any person in authority to report the abuse.’

‘The failure to protect children has not been limited to institutions providing services to children. Some of our most important state instrumentalities have failed. Police often refused to believe children. They refused to investigate their complaints of abuse. Many children, who had attempted to escape abuse, were returned to unsafe institutions by the police. Child protection agencies did not listen to children. They did not act on their concerns, leaving them in situations of danger.’

‘There must be changes in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions.’

‘The number of children who are sexually abused in familial or other circumstances far exceeds those who are abused in institutions.’

It’s time for everyone to be a little less shrill in the public square while the painstaking work is done to consider the implementation of recommendations from the royal commission which are workable and principled. It’s not being shrill to say that not all recommendations are equally workable and principled. It’s time to ensure that all institutions are safe for children. That’s the state’s business. And it’s time for all states to get on board, and for governments to share details of the proposed redress scheme, so that churches can sign up for truth, justice and healing for victims.

Frank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

This article first appeared in Eureka Street


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21 Responses to FRANK BRENNAN. Let’s be less shrill about Church-State relations

  1. Michael Flynn says:

    I await news that Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP says that from 1 July 2018 the Sydney Archdiocese has signed up to the redress scheme and abuse victims have rights. Less talk more action. Also he could announce an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council with a lay person in the Chair to advise him on a just response. His mandatory finance council could publish financial details on claims to 30 June 2018 and assets available including whether CCI and its reinsurers will pay. I expect sadly that this news will not come out. If the available money is not enough I hope the Trustees of the Archdiocese will seek judicial advice that assets in trust may be used for claims under the redress scheme.

  2. P Boylan says:

    The post should read
    Renewing trust can take many forms. A good start may include Australian Archbishops/Bishops supporting the implementation of the 409 recommendations and collaboratively working with other countries and using new research and the findings of the ‘Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Abuse’ to lobby the Vatican to change canon laws and demand global reporting of clergy abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. Requesting the Holy See abide by the recommendations of the UN to protect minors.

  3. P Boylan says:

    The major betrayal concerning Catholics today is the sexual abuse of minors and the institutions complicity.
    ‘The Catholic Church’s general knowledge of sexual abuse of minors by clergy is well established and documented.
    Multiple regulations were written and promulgated by the Vatican in 1662, 1741, 1890, 1922, 1962 and 2002.
    Awareness of the problem of priests’ and bishops’ sexual activity is not a recent phenomenon.
    Sexual abuse of minors has deep systemic roots.’ (Sipe, 2006)
    All ‘involve power inequities and betrayal of the exchange by clergy misconduct’.
    The Pope appoints Bishops who have autonomous control in each diocese with a ‘…responsibility… to preserve his flock from violation is clear.’ (Sipe)
    What has changed in the community is the betrayal of trust in Church leadership.
    Once ‘…a priest who is ordained or assigned to any parish or ministry in a diocese is by a Bishop’s sponsorship certified sexually safe to the parishioners and the public.’ (Sipe)
    Can Parents with children in Catholic schools feel confident in 2018?
    Renewing trust can take many forms. A good start may include Australian Archbishops/Bishops implementing the 409 recommendations and collaboratively working with other countries and using new research and the findings of the ‘Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Abuse’ to lobby the Vatican to change canon laws and demand global reporting of clergy abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
    While the Vatican requires Bishops to only report clergy abuse where there’s a civil law, it is more than likely that’s exactly what Bishops will continue to do.
    There are no mandatory reporting laws for clergy who manage schools in WA, Qld, ACT, Tas and in many other countries in the world.

  4. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    I think a little more ‘shrill’ is in order, actually.
    When dealing with entrenched, historic autocracies (tsars; Holy Mother Church…) there never has been (take your pick: revolution, reform, change, improvement, equity) absent a great deal of sheer bloody-mindedness. Don’t be too Polite, Girls, the catch-cry of 1970s feminist rebellion was a revolution then – and could change lives for the better if adapted to Holy Mother Church today. All this cleric-led politeness and ‘belief’ – positioning of which has been in process since the Royal Commission was established by PM Gillard, whatever that is – (mainly apologetics in action) leaves me cold. I commend us all to Mrs Pankhurst, who knew a thing or two : break glass ! she advocated. Think about it: it’s replaceable, it makes a fearful racket going down, the chaos frightens the living daylights out of bystanders, the cost need not be crippling(choose the target within – budget), it’s good TV, and it signifies a willingness to be charged and to defend one’s actions in a court of law (aka justice). Shrill? You don’t even know the meaning of the word, ‘Frank’.

  5. Trish Martin says:

    This Easter the Archbishop lost an opportunity to declare the infinite power of God’s divine love through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a shame his homily focused on his sacramental Church as the persecuted one. It seems timely to ask: Where is God in all of this misguided, defensive wailing? If Canon law truly reflected the values of Jesus Christ then the Holy Spirit would have been able to work from within and mobilize the bishops into right action on behalf of the abused children. But in 2014 Pope Francis refused to change Canon law to protect children so as it stands the church has only itself to blame for all this turmoil. This MUST BE CHANGED NOW.

  6. Peter Johnstone says:

    Almost as an aside in this otherwise important piece, Frank Brennan regrettably dismisses the Royal Commission’s finding that the Church’s ‘seal of confession’ should not serve to exempt confessors from reporting known paedophiles.
    Frank refers to “simplistic media coverage” implying “all would have been well (1) if only church authorities had reported matters to the police or (2) if only priests were not bound by the seal of the confessional.”
    Re (2), no-one reading the RC report could draw that conclusion; the Royal Commission’s analysis and arguments were in fact substantial and considered, and warrant careful consideration. The recommendation is intended to ensure that any knowledge of a paedophile at large is reported to the police to ensure that children are protected. The principle is clear regardless of the actual numbers of paedophiles that might use the confessional. The seal is not a sacred doctrine of faith but a canonical provision for which there are good reasons but for which there are already exceptions. Any confessor who knows of a paedophile at large has a grave moral obligation to protect children by reporting that paedophile to the police.
    As for (1), the failure of Church authorities to report, that failure was rather a deliberate and shocking protection of paedophiles, transferring them to new parishes and oportunities, leading to further abuse by these many paedophiles left at large, a ‘failure’ that raises fundamental questions about the Church’s unaccountable, secretive governance – questions that Church authorities have continued to ignore.

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      Reply to Peter Johnstone: Many years ago I reported to Frank Brennan (not in a confessional) the sexual abuse of a woman by a priest of his acquaintance. He laughed. Make sense?

    • Bill Burke says:

      Peter, I would endorse much of your commitment to church reform and efforts to engage with Bishops in seeking to advance that agenda.
      But I would encourage a second look at the Commission’s recommendation which catches Sacramental Confession in its net. Recommendation 7.4 reads
      “Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.”
      This is a big call – reporting is required of matters of fact and/or suspicions formed. A call made even although evidence tendered during hearings did nothing to suggest religious confession was a significant contributor to the culture of cover-up.
      Put blandly, the Commission is ready to remove confidentiality from the religious realm of some citizens’ experience, while it accepts that exemptions allow confidentiality to continue to be exercised, where warranted, in the secular sphere.
      This provides the basis of a dogged battle between proponents of the recommendation and religious leaders and communities across the various Faiths present in Australia. For the recommendation, as worded, has as much relevance for a Muslim Imam and an Aboriginal Elder as it does for Catholic, Orthodox and some Anglican Clergy. Of course, for these reasons it will never be adopted.
      Sir Humphrey (of Yes Minister fame) provided the definitive guideline on politicians’ proclivities when facing a particularly “brave” decision.

      • Peter Johnstone says:

        Bill Burke, I acknowledge your observations but would make two points regarding the seal of confession applying to sins of child sexual abuse:
        1. the effect on the seal would be necessarily very limited given the evidence that very few paedophiles confess their abuse of children
        2. that being said, I argue a simple but clear principle that, regardless of numbers of cases, it is morally unacceptable for a confessor to know of a paedophile at large and do nothing to report the individual and thus avoid further violations of children.
        On the issue of when reporting should be obligatory, the RC requirements apply to all cases of child sexual abuse not just confession and the RC’s recommendations are very well argued in the Report.
        You’re right about the need for politicians to show some courage in taking on the Church but democracy expects that civil governments govern in the interest of all, and in this case my Church needs to be subjected to good laws.

  7. Mark Prytz says:

    Well, its a relief to know that percentage wise in relation to the number of children available the catholic kids only got as much abuse as the anglican kids.. phewwwww,
    see I told you so, it all an exaggeration.
    And look, everything is fixed now, there’s only been one report of catholic abuse since 2000!
    (so what if historically reporting time is 30 years average, let’s go with the facts).
    (oops…. that damn catholic school assistant principal just arrested for kiddie porn).

    What has changed inside the church?
    Around the church?
    Pretty layers of words,promises,”protections”, statements etc. etc.
    PR of appearance over substance.
    Got 3 or more years free time?
    Even though the church has committed to a list of Model Litigant guidelines since 2016,
    it will take you that long and cost you $500,000 at least, to run a civil suit against a catholic institution.
    Its a brilliant strategy that really works, as evidenced by the extreme dearth of suits.

    What does this actually mean?
    ‘I remain committed to fair, reasonable and honest dealings with victims of child abuse and to always treating them with respect and dignity,’
    Archbishop Denis Hart. 6 March 2018

    It means proven victims of course, it does not mean a person bringing a complaint.
    So its still open season on plaintiffs.
    viz. Richter’s nasty attempts to destroy witnesses against Pell.

    “… we were concerned that a settlement for a substantial sum could detract from the effectiveness of the Melbourne Response,” Mr Leder wrote. Richard Leder of Corrs Chambers Westgarth said the archdiocese had been reluctant to settle with the Fosters because it might encourage other victims to to sue the church.

    Truth? Justice? LOL………
    Now look here Catholic Church, if you go away you won’t be missed.
    You are not necessary and you are not special. I know you think you are, and that belief lies behind all problems you create.

    “1,800 cases still waiting to be processed. ” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith statistic

  8. Joan Seymour says:

    Are we not confusing the wood and the trees? I interpreted Archbishop Fisher’s protest as an observation that religious faith – and its practice – are under attack from powerful outside forces. Yet this article, and most of the comments, seem fixated on the Catholic Church, the institution. Personally I don’t care much if the institution as it stands now ultimately dies of sheer inability to take care of its own health and healthy lifestyle. I don’t care if Catholic schools lose their funding. I do care very much about our freedom to believe, and to live out of our beliefs. I agree with Archbishop Fisher – they are under attack. However, if all believers, including the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, would practise what we preach and be truly orthodox in that preaching, the attack would ultimately be ineffective, dispersing through sheer lack of an object. The Catholic Church would certainly look very different – but it would be carrying out its mission a lot better. “See how these Christians love one another” is the response we need from society, not ” See how these Christians abuse, scandalize and lord it over each other”.

  9. Bill Burke says:

    Frank is comfortable in applying “shrill”to Archbishop Fisher’s Easter Sunday salvoes. And a significant segment of his article seeks to pour balm on the verbal jousting surrounding the Confessional Seal and its ongoing recognition or rejection in Australian jurisdictions. He rightly points to the Commission’s own material which disclosed cover-ups and complicity orchestrated with knowledge only too well known and gained from everyday discourse.

    Yet an open question remains: why did the Commission include revocation of the Confessional Seal’s exempt status in particular circumstances? For it is this recommendation that has done much to excite the passions of supporters and opponents. As a casual observer of social media, one cannot but be struck by the righteous anger supporters of the move have as they seek to nudge parliaments into action.

    Archbishop Fisher’s ability as a pastor will be influenced by his ability to pick the right pulpit moment: standing flush against the proclamation of the empty tomb, he would have been better served in testifying to the reality of a living God than offering a catalogue of woes.

    But, there will come a time when a defence of the Seal will need to be argued. And this may prove to be a valuable act in itself. For if there is an inherent value in the practice, it will survive sustained scrutiny.

  10. Kieran Tapsell says:

    As I read Archbishop Fisher’s homily, I couldn’t help being reminded of similar calls that in this modern age, the Church was being persecuted, simply because it was being called to account. Cardinal Obando y Bravo accused the victims of child sexual abuse of being like Potiphar’s wife: “The reasons that drive Potiphar’s wife to lie are pleasure, spite and unrequited love….one can’t hide the fact that in some cases we are dealing with presumed victims who want to gain large pay offs on the basis of calumnious accusations….It seems to me that in this moment, the Church in the United States is living through a heroic moment, of bloodless martyrdom. Of persecution.”. Cardinal Castrillon, the former Prefect for the Congregation of Clergy, and the most insistent of the Vatican Curia Cardinals that bishops should not report paedophile priests to the police, in an interview with Patricia Janiot on CNN in 2011, also accused the victims of child sexual abuse persecuting the Church for money. Then there was Cardinal Francis George who claimed complained about ‘secularization’, and Western countries, ‘making ‘laws’ beyond their competence’. One of the things that he associated with this ‘secularization’, which he described as ‘communism’s better scrubbed bed fellow’, was the increasing public acceptance of same sex marriage. The end result of the secularist slippery slope will be, he said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Archbishop Fisher is in good ecclesiastical company. As Frank Brennan rightly points out, issues of religious freedom can be discussed calmly and sensibly without resorting to claims of victimhood which are unhelpful for any rational discussion.

  11. Ben Morris says:

    Archbishop Fisher’s reaction to the Royal Commission seems to be distract the debate with a defence of the seal of the confessional. As pointed out by Frank Brennan and others, the seal of the confessional was never used in moving a paedophile priest to a new location to continue their nasty vile habit.
    These men were moved by a bishop who generally sought council from advisers before moving them to a new location just to keep the problem under the radar. Many in this debate seem to forget that there is a specific crime which the bishops and their advisers exposed themselves to, namely an accessory to the fact of the crime of paedophilia or in some cases may be the crime of complicity.
    Before people become shrill about what the Royal Commission did or did not say they should go make themselves familiar with the Australian law on these two areas of possible criminal acts.
    Some seem to have failed to realise that the Royal Commission was set up to maintain the rule of law in this country and one would hope that both Australian law and canon law are applied in such manner to ensure this occurs.

    • Kieran Tapsell says:

      I don’t think it is correct to say that bishops who moved paedophile priests around exposed themselves to the crimes of accessory or complicity. Until 2012, there was only one State in Australia that made the failure to report by anyone of child sexual abuse a crime, and that was New South Wales with S.326 of the Crimes Act. In 2012, Victoria passed a similar law. All other States had abolished misprision of felony in the 1980s or 1990s or never had it because they had adopted criminal codes. In the 1990s, mandatory reporting laws were introduced for children at risk, that is those still under the age of 16 or 18 years at the time of the complaint, but the obligation to report only applied to particular professions, such as teachers, doctors, police etc, and then the list varied from State to State. In 2010, the Vatican gave a direction for bishops to obey civil reporting laws. The Royal Commission has recommended that all States should pass comprehensive reporting laws similar to those that exist in NSW, but so far as I can see none had so far been passed, and until they are passed, the pontifical secret still applies to those States where there is no applicable reporting laws, and in most cases of sexual abuse, that means everywhere except New South Wales and Victoria. The Church can’t be blamed for the lack of these laws, but in the meantime Pope Francis could solve that problem with a stroke of his pen by abolishing the pontifical secret as recommended by the Royal Commission. In 2014, he was asked by two United Nations Committees on the Rights of the Child and against Torture to do just that, but he refused.

  12. Brian Abbey says:

    Although myself an atheist, I have a high regard for Frank Brennan’s frequent contributions to public life, while usually being unable to agree with them. By contrast, Trevor Kennedy’s rather over-heated rusty battle-cry shows him to be the kind of advocate who prompts the familiar question, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’
    His unconsciously shrill denial of the alleged – most would say ‘ striking and undeniable’ – shrillness of Archbishop Fisher’s call to arm, as quoted and questioned by Fr Brennan, is a convincing demonstration of the problem Kennedy can’t and likely never will see. His preference for incendiary adjectives over testable evidence clearly linked to logic means his statement ends up as nothing more than bugles and drums. Meant to stir the blood, yes, if you like what those instruments lead to; but impossible to argue with in any sensible way or proper manner.
    When he finally does reach for illustrations, his passing allusions are to two events – the ALP-DLP split, the pre-Whitlam State Aid imbroglio – from what, to judge by his tone, might well have been his salad days. Half-a-century or so ago, both events are now known by anybody who has kept up with the historians to be far more complex and many-sided than Mr Kennedy seems willing/able to realise.
    Indeed, it is tempting to see the Fisher-Kennedy choir as the warm-up act for the embryonic campaign currently being cobbled together by what most observers now term ‘the usual suspects’, that little knot of Coalition stars of yesteryear for whom the apex of modern life was reached in the Spain of the 1930s or in the backblocks of Italy even earlier. The damage this divisiveness does to the Coalition’s failing efforts to come up with policies that could command any respect, let alone agreement, is seen as merely a collateral cost incurred by the rest of us as the militants press forward to a battle more likely to lay them all low rather than elevate them to the heights where their dreams repose, in the inner sanctum of the few remaining ‘true believers’.

  13. Bob Elliott says:

    Reply to Trevor Kennedy.

    True the Church needs to fight again!! But the enemy is not without- it is inside the walls where the fight needs to be had. We need all our intellectual power to work out why such terrible crimes occurred and were allowed to occur. We then need all our fortitude to bring about change where it is clearly needed. So stop sliming the spotlight out there and look for the cockroaches to be eradicated in our own house. Energy wasted outside will weaken us within.

  14. trevor kennedy says:

    While I have great regard for Frank Brennan I think it is wrong and demeaning of him to characterise the recent statements as shrill. The Catholic Church needs to learn to fight again–like it did in the ALP when the communists tried to take it over late 40s and 50s, like it did in the 60s when justice for schools in the form of state aid was won. Recent ABC and Fairfax media treat of the Pell case has been shamefully unjust and the Fairfax recent portrayal of the church as a property magnate with total disregard of what this property is used for was disgraceful.

    • Garry Nolan says:

      Hi Trevor, we (the Church) cannot do the terrible things we have done and not expect it to be reported in the media. The portrayal of the Church as a property magnate was a perfectly natural, and expected reaction to the closing comments in the Statement of Catholic Bishops and Religious Leaders on Release of the Final Report of the Royal Commission dated December 15, 2017. I see no evidence that “Powerful interests now seek to marginalise religious believers and beliefs”. This is simply being paranoid. Most of us were told by our mothers – “If you do the wrong thing, take your punishment like a man and do not do it again”. Bob Elliott is absolutely correct, our enemy is not without – the damage to our Church has come from within.

  15. Peter Johnstone says:

    Archbishop Fisher claims that: “Powerful interests now seek to marginalise religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life … ” Not surprisingly, the Church’s role in public life is certainly being justly questioned, and a leader of the Church chooses to play the victim. Archbishop Fisher should be lamenting the confirmed crimes of the Church as documented by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Failing to recognise, let alone address, the exposed failures and dysfunctions of the Church, is the very antithesis of true Christianity. The Church itself protected paedophiles leaving them at large to abuse further children. As Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald observed, the Church “placed its own reputation above the interests of (abuse) victims and survivors . . . knowingly and willingly in a way as to cause further harm to many of those victims.” Rather than playing the victim, we must reject past hypocrisy, practise the faith that we profess, and hopefully re-earn public respect. That requires immediate reforms in accountability, transparency and inclusiveness in every aspect of the life of the Church; it also requires Christ-like humility and commitment to future accountability, of which there is no evidence in Archbishop Fisher’s homily.

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