GEOFFREY ROBINSON. The Royal Commission.

I am convinced that there must be a full and open discussion of all aspects of the Church if we are ever to put this scandal behind us. Quite simply, we need a different church. The Royal Commission was not constrained by any Church laws or teachings and so came much closer to the heart of the problem.  

I was a victim of child abuse myself, and one of the effects is that I simply cannot read, watch or talk about abuse continually. So I have not followed every detail of the wrap up sessions of the Royal Commission as well as I might have or some people expected me to. I prefer to leave abuse behind, though the Commission has made this hard to do.

The day the archbishops of Australia appeared was the day I looked forward to least. It is not that they are bad men. In this field they are, indeed, a big improvement on the generations of archbishops who went before them. I doubt that a single one of the present archbishops would be guilty of moving a known offender to another parish. My fears were:

  • That their actions would not match up to their words;
  • That they would not join together in demanding (not even privately let alone publicly) that Roman authorities make the changes without which the Australian bishops are hamstrung in mounting any serious offensive against abuse;
  • That they would make no call to look again at every element in the laws, teaching and culture of the church that has contributed to abuse.

Sadly my fears were founded and the archbishops appeared as weak, using many words but offering little else.

The resignation from the Pope’s Commission by Marie Collins is a bad blow. She speaks of a commission that meets too infrequently, that does not have proper funding, and that receives too little support, and sometimes outright opposition, from the rest of the Vatican. She reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was ordered by Pope Francis to set up a body that would investigate failures by bishops to respond to cases of abuse, but replied that it could not do so because of unspecified “legal difficulties”.

I see the major problem, both for the archbishops and for all the people in the Vatican, as that of an inability to follow the argument wherever it leads, for they are too constrained by the laws (e.g. obligatory celibacy) and teachings (e.g. concerning power and sex) that are presented as virtually unchangeable. Infallibility is the final barrier to any adequate response to abuse, as it is to many other problems in the Church. Unless this barrier is removed, I fear we will never see a true response.

I am convinced that there must be a full and open discussion of all aspects of the Church if we are ever to put this scandal behind us. Quite simply, we need a different church. The Royal Commission was not constrained by any Church laws or teachings and so came much closer to the heart of the problem.

In the meantime, all I can suggest is that the Australian bishops set up a body as independent as possible of Church authority to implement the recommendations of the Commission.

See links to earlier articles on this blog concerning Bishop Geoffrey Robinson:  ‘The Catholic bishops don’t understand their responsibility accountability‘.  ‘Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse‘.  ‘How the Australian Bishops and Rome ignored the warnings‘.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson was formerly auxiliary bishop in Sydney.  In May 2002, Bishop Robinson called on Pope John Paul II to commission a church-wide study of clerical sex abuse.  He retired as auxiliary bishop in July 2004. He is now a Bishop Emeritus.

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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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