The Ongoing Challenge of Dealing with Child Abuse in the Catholic Church: Testimony of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson


William D. Lindsey

As I offer my ten notes about the problem of child abuse and Jerry Slevin’s valuable proposal for a U.S. national commission to address this problem, I want to offer as well a reprise of some notes from the powerful and prophetic book of Australian bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (Dublin: Columba, 2007). I’ve blogged about Bishop Robinson’s book in the past.

But it strikes me that, with the recent establishment of a royal commission to investigate child abuse (and its cover-up) in Australia, Bishop Robinson’s book is timely all over again–and it deserves recognition as a ground-breaking resource that led Australian Catholics and Catholics in many parts of the world to begin looking with new eyes at child abuse in the Catholic church and other institutions.

Here are some valuable lessons Bishop Robinson’s book taught me when I read it, which I think are worth remembering all over again as Australia investigates child abuse:

1. Why should Catholics who have ourselves not experienced sexual abuse by clergy care about the experiences of those who have had such experiences?

Bishop Robinson’s answer to this question: abuse by a religious authority figure disrupts the entire “ecosystem” of love and meaning in the life of a person who experiences such abuse as a minor. This disruption of love and meaning in one’s life can perdure throughout one’s entire life.

Bishop Robinson writes,

The systems of meaning that people build up are always fragile, for they are made up of the many tiny fragments of their lived experience, the many loves, small and great, of their lives. Sexual abuse is a bulldozer gouging a road through this fragile ecosystem of love and meaning that a person has been painfully constructing (p. 217).

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