God has such impeccable timing. Here we are with a Gospel reading today that proclaims,
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven (Mt 5:13-16).
while from tomorrow and for the next three weeks the Church will be reporting to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about its failures, and the policies and procedures that have been put in place to prevent any recurrence of this lamentable period when we failed to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world.
Our Archbishop, the most reverend Timothy Costelloe SDB, has issued a pastoral letter.
I ask you too, to continue to pray for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse in our Church. The heavy burdens they carry, inflicted on them by people who were supposed to be signs and bearers of God’s love and care but who were the very opposite, and the dismissive, disbelieving and insensitive way in which they were treated by so many of our Church leaders, impels us as a community to do all we can to assist them now and into the future. This last public hearing of the Royal Commission will inevitably be a stressful and painful time for many. Paradoxically it might also be a time of healing.
As a community we are deeply shamed by the failures of so many in our Church in relation to the care of our children and young people. More than this we are horrified by the suffering which has been inflicted on so many innocent people.
As I have in the past, I want now to again express our profound sorrow and apology for this shocking failure on our part and for the pain it has caused to so many. As a Church we are committed now to doing everything we can to ensure that this evil is eradicated from our midst.
You can read the rest here.
Francis Sullivan, the head of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has also made the point that the data that will be revealed this week will be ‘the first time in the world the Catholic Church’s records on child sexual abuse have been compiled and analysed for public consideration’. (The Australian, Horrific extent of Catholic child abuse, 2 February 2017). I’m not sure exactly how Australia’s contribution is unique: there has been a veritable boatload of reports issued in other countries: the John Jay Report, the Murphy Report and the Ferns Report, to name a few.
We, as a Church, can expect to be thoroughly humiliated in the public forum – and deservedly so.
Nevertheless, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is not just a Church problem, but a societal one. Kelly Richards, writing in Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 429, writes,
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey, of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, 11.1 percent were victimised by a stranger. More commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%), a family friend (16.3%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%), another known person (15.3%), or the father or stepfather (13.5%; see Figure 1). It should be noted that these totals add to more than 100 percent (103.7%); this indicates that a small proportion of child sexual abuse victims (3.7%) were abused by perpetrators belonging to more than one category.
In other words, the vast majority of child-sexual abuse perpetrators have not been targeted by the Royal Commission, since it is dealing with institutional not familial responses. Writing in The Australian, Gerard Henderson makes the point that even among institutions, the Catholic Church may be being unfairly scapegoated (Child Abuse Royal Commission: Don’t Just Target Catholic Church). And the irony is that even while the government with one hand is busy rooting out this sort of child sexual abuse, with the other hand it is actively promoting the abuse and sexualisation of children through insidious programs such as Safe Schools.
What does all this mean for the ordinary parishioner like you or me? In practice, the issue has already largely been dealt with, through various Safeguarding offices and through the Diocesan Professional Standards Office. For my part, I can’t say I have ever actually met either a sexually abused parishioner or an abusive priest, although I do know someone who, as a child, had a teacher who attempted (unsuccessfully) to groom him. So the problem is not front-of-mind in the experience of currently practising Catholics, as it is to some degree historical, not current.
What parishioners are finding, though, is a certain guardedness in interactions between parishioners, the general public and clergy. Priests are now more cautious about placing themselves in situations where they might be vulnerable to accusations, and unfortunately in the mind of the general public, the two words ‘priest’ and ‘paedophile’ have become associated with each other. If ever Satan wanted to undermine the effectiveness of the Church in carrying out its mission of telling the world about Jesus Christ, this would be the way he would have chosen: to insert sufficient paedophiles and unconcerned bishops into our ranks to cause chaos. Fortunately most of the priests I know are concentrating on serving their communities and living good and holy lives. And most parishioners are trying to get on with doing the same.
As we see in today’s Psalm, “A light rises in the darkness for the upright.” We need to go through the darkness of chastisement and purification and pray for our Archbishop, the leadership of our Archdiocese and our priests. What I think we will find, when the Royal Commission has done its work and people have found closure, is that the task of evangelisation will start to get its legs in Australia, as it has already done in the US. At the moment, we can’t evangelise effectively, because we’re still undergoing purgation and being rightly shamed for our past mistakes. But, as Bishop Robert Barron explains in his YouTube video, God will ‘rebuild his Holy City’ through those who have remained faithful through it all.
You might also enjoy watching these recent videos on current topics from Bishop Barron, interviewed here by Dave Rubin from The Rubin Report:
Part 1: Belief, Faith and the Church Sex Scandal
Part 2: Abortion, Gay Marriage and Porn