This is not an easy time to be a believing/practising Catholic. Indeed, many good people have given up on the Church because of the horrendous revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests and religious and by the possibly even more despicable covering-up by those who should have known better and who should have had a primary concern for the victims rather than for “the good name of the Church”.
If the institutional Church used to have a good name because of the tremendous amount of good things done by its members, that reputation has been seriously dented by the scandals we have now been hearing about for a number of years.
A normal human reaction would be to ask: “How could this have happened?” or “Who or what is to blame? We love to look for scapegoats. An early reaction when the revelations of sexual abuse of children started to become widespread was to blame the media. While it may be true that the media are not averse to finding fault with the Catholic Church, we cannot blame the messenger. The perpetrators of the crimes against children were precisely the people we, all of us Christians, had placed on a pedestal. We assumed that priests and religious were people who lived on a higher moral plane; that they could not do any real wrong – certainly not abuse our children. Wasn’t it the current Archbishop of Hobart, who taught his seminary students that priests were “ontologically different”? One consequence of this mistaken, but understandable, elevation of priests and religious was that our children, the victims of sexual abuse, were not believed. The paedophiles played on this: “No one will believe you!” This was both an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust.
What has all this to do with Easter? Well, on Passion (or Palm) Sunday we read in Matthew’s Passion: “You will all lose faith in me this night”. The victims of sexual abuse, who were not believed by those who should have believed them and taken appropriate action, may well identify with Jesus as he was about to be betrayed and crucified. Their passion may well have lasted 30, 40, or more years. Their bodies and their spirits were broken by the abuse they suffered at the hands of the anointed ones.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned is a grace. Its magnificently impartial investigation has forced the institution to have a good look at itself and to acknowledge the evil it has allowed to be perpetrated in its midst. It now has to be recognised that those who moved paedophile priests from parish to parish were really “accessories in crime”. In the Passion narratives we recognise the “accessories in crime” in the crucifixion and death of Jesus. One legal dictionary defines “accessory in crime” as follows; “contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of an offense, becomes guilty of such offense, not as a chief actor, but as a participant, as by command, advice, instigation, or concealment; either before or after the fact or commission.” While “command, advice, instigation” could hardly be attributed to those bishops and others who were responsible for moving paedophiles around, “concealment” certainly can. I don’t for a moment think that those clerics approved the paedophile crimes, but at the same time they will never be able to claim that they did all in their power to stop the criminal behaviour.
Peter, who had said: “I will never lose faith”, not 24 hours later disowned Jesus three times. When the cock crew and Peter recognised what Jesus had said to him, he “wept bitterly”. All those on our Church who were in any way responsible for not believing the victims and allowing the paedophiles to re-offend should also weep bitterly.
As we reflect on the passion and death of Jesus I hope we think above all of the victims of sexual abuse. But the passion and death of Jesus make no sense without the resurrection. As Paul says to the Romans: “we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him”. Certainly the victims of sexual abuse, whether they realise it or not, have “died with Christ” and surely they “shall return to life with him.
A very happy Easter!
Rob Brian is a parishioner at St Therese Church, Dover Heights