John Menadue. How the Australian Bishops and Rome ignored the warnings.

Jun 18, 2015

Current Affairs. 

We were warned about events such as in the Ballarat Catholic Diocese. But they were even worse than what we expected. Bishops have been warned for a long time but they have ignored the warnings. See article below that I posted on 22 February 2013.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, formerly Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney (1984-2004) has consistently and firmly drawn attention to the damage that sexual abuse was wreaking on individuals and the integrity of the Catholic Church.

As early as 1997, when launching ‘Towards Healing’, Bishop Robinson called on Pope John Paul II to commission a church-wide study of clerical sexual abuse. He was ignored and increasingly side-lined.

Geoffrey Robinson has publicly said that he had suffered from sexual abuse. This made him more demanding of the Catholic Church in this area. He was also greatly influenced by the stories he had heard since 1994 when he had been appointed to the bishops’ national approach to what were called “Special Issues”. This subsequently became the Professional Standards Committee to develop procedures to respond to sex abuse complaints. This work culminated in ‘Towards Healing’. I am told by very well-informed sources that in this work on the committee he encountered both scoffing and disbelief from some bishops, including archbishops. He incurred the wrath of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Ratzinger personally for his supposed disloyalty and dubious orthodoxy.

Unfortunately for the Church, Bishop Robinson resigned in 2004, soon after he had finished his term on the Towards Healing committee. His resignation was for health reasons. He is now ‘Bishop Emeritus’.

After his resignation as Bishop, he commenced work on the book which he published in 2007 ‘Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church’. That book highlighted two things. The first was that sexual abuse was an awful but only one expression of the endemic abuse of power generally in the Catholic Church. Second he highlighted that if the sexual abuse crisis was to be effectively addressed, the Catholic Church needed to make fundamental and far-reaching changes. He stressed that sexual abuse was at the core of the Church’s ugly culture and anti-humane procedures. In such a situation he insisted that the process of scrutiny and reform must go wherever the truth leads.

In May 2008, after the publication of his book, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement critical of the book and Bishop Robinson. The statement said

‘…The book’s questioning of the authority of the Church is connected to Bishop Robinson’s uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself. Catholics believe that the Church, founded by Christ is endowed by him with a teaching office which endures through time. This is why the Church’s Magisterium teaches the truth authoritatively in the name of Christ. The book casts doubt upon these teachings. This leads in turn to the questioning of Catholic teaching on, among other things, the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, the infallibility of the Councils and the Pope, the authority of the Creeds, the nature of the ministerial priesthood and central elements of the Church’s moral teaching.’

Take that, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, for telling us some unpalatable truths!

Before a proposed visit to the US shortly after the launch of his book he was asked by Cardinal Giovanni Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to cancel his tour because ‘some bishops in the United States are concerned that you have been invited by some organisations that are not in communion with the Catholic Church’.  Bishop Robinson went ahead with the tour.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has paid a price for telling the truth. In his own archdiocese of Sydney he commented ‘I have been excluded from a number of ceremonies usually performed by bishops. On the other hand, I have been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support from Catholic people’.

The world Catholic Church and particularly the Church in Australia owes Geoffrey Robinson a great debt for his integrity and courage in the face of clerical bullying. He still has a lot to contribute, perhaps more than anyone else I know in the Catholic Church in addressing its present crisis.

If only the bishops in Australia and Rome started listening to him way back in 1997 when he went public for the first time on the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

(I should add that I have not spoken to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson either directly or indirectly on these matters. I have only met him once and that was quite briefly and casually six or seven years ago.)

John Menadue

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