|Leader front page. No mention or pic of George Pell|
There was applause after the sermon at our local mass today.
That's pretty unusual.
It came after the priest quoted Plato in reference to the recently announced Royal Commission to investigate child abuse in churches and other institutions.
The quote -
"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."
The heartfelt applause I saw and heard this morning after this sermon is symptomatic of the deep distress that this issue has caused to Catholics all over the country. Sermons are not usually applauded.
The distress this abuse has visited on the victims and their families is of another dimension entirely. I should know.
What is not understood is that the trauma of such an event doesn't disappear with the passage of time. It is accommodated, but it never goes away, and in many cases changes the victim forever.
So perhaps, to use another quote (Luke 23:24) -
"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".
Forgiveness is going to be very difficult for victims and their families, but perhaps the Royal Commission will shed light on why this has happened to so many defenceless kids.
As a practicing Catholic, for whom the church has been a steadying anchor for all of my life, I am bewildered by the contrast between the values I have seen put in practice by the church throughout my life, and the behaviour of a small minority of the clergy.
I attended a Catholic boarding school, and my children all attended Catholic schools. Because we moved around a bit, they also spent large chunks of their schooling in state schools, as I did. I am unaware of any abuse through this time in either system.
Perhaps because we attended parish schools, many with lay teachers, abuse was less likely. It does seem to have been a problem in institutions where members of the clergy (priests or brothers) were in positions of power and trust.
I'm sure there is a link between institutional culture and abuse. As a school principal I always worked hard to try to ensure that power cliques were no part of school culture. On one occasion, I was appointed to a school where such a clique was embedded in the culture. It took three years of hard graft to get rid of it.
Sexual abuse is about power - not sex. The best way to avoid it happening in an institution is to develop a culture where power hierarchies can't grow and thrive.
So what does this mean for the church?
It probably means the abolition of hierarchies. It probably means opening the church up to married clergy and the ordination of women. It probably means a return to Catholic social justice values that were such a feature of Vatican II.
Given the current leadership (Pell locally and Benedict in the Vatican) I don't hold out much hope of reform. Vatican II back in the mid sixties set the course of the church in the direction of inclusion, liberation and encouraged dialogue and flexibility. Many liberation movements saw their origins in Vatican II. Notable amongst these was the rise of Solidarity in Poland, and many Social Justice movements in South America.
Out of it grew Liberation theology. This is an essentially Catholic political movement which interprets Christian beliefs in political terms, and seeks to put these values into action. The political values are about liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor”.
Those critical of Liberation theology see it as Marxism dressed up as Christianity.
Like many other Catholics of my generation, I was brought up in this tradition. Much of my political viewpoint is based on Liberation theology because it matches neatly with my belief and value system. I work in my local parish in the social justice group. We work with migrants and refugees.
Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) a man of the Right, also known as the Vatican’s Rottweiler when he was a Cardinal is seeking to reverse many of the trends set during Vatican II. Recent evidence of this was the sacking of our local Bishop (Bill Morris).
It’s no coincidence that Toowoomba diocese has more social justice infrastructure than any other Australian diocese. Bill Morris also handled child abuse in St Saviour’s school in Toowoomba in an honest and open manner by making an immediate and very public apology and ensuring that there was no contest by the Diocese to any of the claims. In doing this, he ignored George Pell.
All of this is relevant in terms of the Royal Commission. Institutional abuse needs a culture (a medium for growth) in which to thrive. Any institution characterised by hierarchical power structures, rigidity and a mono gender makeup is at risk. Moves to open the church up to married clergy and women in the priesthood have been stoutly resisted by Ratzinger. This was one of the issues that got Morris booted, and all he did was write a letter about it to his diocesan laity.
Like many other practising Catholics, I see a connection between the power structures grimly held on to by the old guard in the church and child abuse. I welcome the enquiry, and would like to see some recommendations at the end of it that look at institutional structure. My church needs to be liberated from its medieval roots, and move back to the political centre-left where it fits best.
Perhaps the strong progressive values espoused by orders such as the Josephites will provide a template.
I hope so. My church is bleeding.