Fr Frank’s Homily

Catholic Outlook – Diocese of Parramatta

October 24, 2020

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ

Today is the National Day of Sorrow and Promise, when we hold the victims of child sexual abuse in our church front and centre acknowledging our sin, weeping in the name of our Church, and begging forgiveness for the wrong we have done. We hope to sow seeds of peace walking alongside those wanting to invite us to accompany them on their journey of truth, justice and healing. Understanding those who would not want us to accompany them on such a journey, we hold them silently in prayer.

What can any priest say on such a day, seeking to break open the word of today’s Gospel where Jesus makes love of God and love of neighbour inseparable, telling us that “on these two commandments hang the whole law, and the Prophets also?” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus constantly returns to this idea of the law and the Prophets being fulfilled in one. During the Sermon on the Mount, he had said, “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.” (7:12) What can any of us who lived an ideal childhood oblivious to any abuse happening in our church or society say or do, seeking to treat those who have suffered abuse as we would like them to treat us?

First, we must listen. And even though we’ve now had years of revelations with commissions of inquiry and raised public awareness, there’s still a lot of listening we need to do, particularly when it comes to the spiritual violence and hurt caused by a priest violating a child, when the child has nowhere to turn, thinking that parents would find even the suggestion of violation an impossible abomination. Much has changed and for the better, hopefully reducing the prospect of future abuse. But the pain, suffering, destruction and spiritual desolation of past abuse remains.

Recently, a survivor, Wendy Holder reached out to me. One of her brothers is an alumnus of Newman College. Wendy suffered the most appalling abuse by not one, but two priests – first when she was aged 12, having moved interstate at a time of great vulnerability and need for pastoral care after the death of her brother, and then when she was transitioning to university. She is a psychologist. She is on a journey beginning “to understand the impact of child sexual abuse by religious people on a child’s spiritual development, and the resultant damage to their adult spiritual formation.” She found sanctuary at Mary MacKillop Place during Easter 2018 and then a couple of times at the Benedictine Abbey at Jamberoo the following year. Thank God for such sanctuaries where religious women can provide a haven amidst the wonders of creation. Wendy published her reflections of her visits to MacKillop Place and the Jamberoo Abbey: Poetry of a Survivor.

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