GARRY EASTMAN. Response to Jack Waterford: We need a Catholic Yom Kippur, and a serious sacrifice.

There are now no survivors or parents of survivors on the Commission nor are there any on the Australian Towards Healing or Melbourne Response agencies for handling complaints by victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The same criticism applies to the Truth, the Justice and Healing Council and the newly created company, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.  

Response to Jack Waterford

I had just finished reading Jack Waterford’s powerful article on bishops’ accountability and governance (Pearls and Irritations/Canberra Times) when an email alert popped up on my screen from the National Catholic Reporter (a US independent newspaper) headed ‘Lone survivor on Vatican abuse commission resigns in frustration’. The headline and subsequent article told how Irish survivor, Marie Collins, had resigned from the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors. Her resignation followed on from survivor Peter Saunders agreeing to take leave following his criticisms of the slowness of the Commission to institute reforms.

There are now no survivors or parents of survivors on the Commission nor are there any on the Australian Towards Healing or Melbourne Response agencies for handling complaints by victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The same criticism applies to the Truth, the Justice and Healing Council and the newly created company, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.

As conservative columnist, Angela Shanahan commented many years back on Q & A, what a different response the Catholic Church would have made to sexual abuse if mothers had been involved in the decision making. A similar comment can be made about the part that could have been played by victims and their supporters. Instead on several occasions prior to the Commission and the Victorian Enquiry they received many disparaging comments from several bishops.

For all the heartfelt gestures by bishops appearing at the Royal Commission, nothing of substance has changed. The greatest failure of responsibility was to leave it to Francis Sullivan, the Director of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to respond in tears to counsel Gail Furness’ listing of the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church. Where was Archbishop Hart, President of the Bishops Conference, offering a response and shedding a tear?

Not only did Archbishop Hart or any of the archbishops fail to show any emotional response but Hart had the temerity to issue a statement pledging that the bishops would work to safeguard victims while at the same time releasing a redacted report into the Melbourne Response after he had finished his testimony. He had had the Report for 18 months! This is the same archbishop who steadfastly refused until the Commission to hold an enquiry into the Melbourne Response.

This stonewalling and rejection of consultation happens at all levels. As Marie Collins commented in her resignation statement, the Vatican bureaucracy constantly disregarded recommendations from the Pontifical Commission, even refusing as directed to respond to victims’ letters. Other members of this commission made similar complaints in their testimony before the Royal Commission.

Then we had Anthony Fisher, archbishop of Sydney, claiming that he could not act autocratically as his priests and people wouldn’t allow it. He seemed to forget that it never stopped his predecessor Cardinal George Pell from doing so in recent years in both Sydney and Melbourne. Under the current lack of accountability it won’t stop any bishop from doing the same in the future.

During the discussion on governance Archbishop Coleridge from Brisbane turned to the Royal Commission and appealed for recommendations to help the bishops get their house in order. He failed to recognise that he and the bishops had before them recommendations from many lay people and organisations. He and his fellow bishops abandoned colleagues Geoffrey Robinson, Pat Power and Bill Morris when they were censured by the Vatican for doing likewise. He was not attentive to the testimony of governance expert, Dr Maureen Cleary, who showed what a radical difference corporate structure and it requirements made to how religious orders operated.

Jack Waterford said heads should roll, archbishops and the nuncio should resign. Following Marie Collins resignation, so should several in the Vatican.

To my mind the Royal Commission in theological terms has been a grace, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Without the Commission we would never have known the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church, we would never have seen leaders held to account.

As visiting US canonist Dr Tom Doyle OP commented at the end of his evidence,

I just want to make sure that my gratitude on behalf of my colleagues and the people I represent in the States, unofficially, is heard by you, how grateful we are for what you are doing for us but especially what you are doing for those who have been violated, who will never come forward but know that somebody cares enough about them to go through all of this. That is important. Thank you.

I agree.

Garry Eastman, Executive Chairman, Garratt Publishing. 

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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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