JOHN MENADUE. The Catholic bishops don’t understand their responsibility and accountability. (Repost from 27 February 2017)

In any other walk of life or area of public administration, admission of criminal neglect would be a prelude to the tendering of resignations. The criminally negligent are not fit and proper persons to hold senior administrative responsibilities. Not so in the Catholic Church because it’s all someone else’s responsibility.

It’s very rare that an emperor tells us he has no clothes. But hats off to one that does. That’s almost what the Australian bishops have just done after being driven to their knees by the scale and reach of sex abuse in the Church. It was revealed in their ‘wrap-up’ before the Royal Commission.

Of course these emperors don’t admit that THEY have no clothes. It’s their predecessors who are shown to be naked before the truth. Their predecessors were ‘scandalously inefficient, … hopelessly inadequate … just totally wrong’ They were even found by one of their number with a law degree – Anthony Fisher of Sydney – to have been ‘criminally negligent’.

‘Negligent and criminally so’ indeed! If they were still alive, a former archbishop and two former bishops would certainly face charges and in all likelihood have been sent to gaol.

In any other walk of life or area of public administration, admission of criminal neglect would be a prelude to the tendering of resignations. The criminally negligent are not fit and proper persons to hold senior administrative responsibilities.

Not so in the Catholic Church because it’s all someone else’s responsibility. It’s as if the world Donald Trump is creating in the USA has always been alive and well in the way the Catholic Church runs its affairs.

After the three week Catholic “wrap up” at the Royal Commission into child abuse in institutions, the President of the Australian bishops, Denis Hart made this promise:

As the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference I make this commitment to the survivors of child sexual abuse, the Catholic and broader community: I will do all within my power to ensure the abuse of the past never happens again, that the reforms my fellow bishops and religious leaders have endorsed over the past years will be implemented. I reiterate that the Catholic Church in Australia will continue to support the survivors of child sexual abuse.

The only things missing from this promise and all the other sentiments expressed in his press release is any ownership of responsibility and accountability for creating the destructive mess in the first place or any commitment to addressing the structural causes of the problem in the way the church organizes its life and administration. For example all the bishops were appointed through a rigged system that excludes the people of the Church. Beneficiaries of such a system are hardly likely to want to change it.

Parishes have no say in the appointment and supervision of parish priests.

Some Australian bishops have been held to account for their activities and removed from office. Take the way Rome, urged on by Cardinal Pell and others, dealt summarily with Bishop William Morris over trivialities involved in the administration of the sacraments or mentioning the unmentionable (women priests). It was never made clear what he was sacked for.

When it comes to the big things that matter in life – like really taking responsibility for how bad the governance, culture and exercise of power in the Church is, especially when it comes to protecting the innocent – the Australian bishops have yet to show they get it.

Power and its abuse are at the heart of the problem as Bishop Geoffrey Robinson made very clear over two decades ago. Anything else is just talk. Fellow bishops quickly rejected what Bishop Robinson was saying and shunted him aside. See link to my previous post ‘How the Australian Bishops and Rome ignored the warnings‘.

Protocols, commitments to victims and regulatory bodies will all fail in their purpose if the real cancer eating away at the institution is not diagnosed and treated.

Power, like sex, is a human constant. Power in human affairs can and should never be eliminated. Structuring it with proper checks and balances is the challenge. Its abuse will not be touched and treated as long as no one takes personal responsibility for maladministration.

This allows the causes of the abuse of power (and sex) in the life and fabric of the institution to escape detection and treatment.

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John 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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