Vatican’s most senior woman says Catholic Church ‘failed’ child abuse victims

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]

February 4, 2023

By Isobel Roe

The Vatican’s most senior woman says the Catholic Church has “failed” victims of child abuse, and the church must become more modern and inclusive to stay relevant. 

Key points:

  • Census data from 2021 indicated 43 per cent of Australians identify as Christian
  • This is down from 52 per cent in 2016
  • The largest group describing themselves as having ‘no religion’ are people under 39

Sister Nathalie Becquart, the first woman to receive voting rights in the Synod of Bishops, is on a tour of Australian Catholic dioceses, advocating for the church to listen more to its congregation.

Her visit to Sydney and Parramatta coincides with the funeral of Australia’s most senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell, an event she did not attend due to prior speaking commitments. 

Sr Becquart, 53, said fiery protests outside the funeral showed people were understandably angry at the church for its handling of institutional child sexual abuse.

“It’s true that the church in many ways has failed,” she said.

“So we can understand that some people are angry.”

Sr Becquart is a French nun of the Congregation of Xavieres, and was appointed by Pope Francis as the under secretary to the Synod of Bishops, which will meet this year to discuss the future of the church.

She is considered a more modern Catholic figure and has previously addressed advocacy groups fighting for the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the church, as the institution grapples with declining participation in Australia. 

Census data from 2021 shows 43 per cent of Australians identify as Christian, down from 52 per cent in 2016, with people under 39 the largest age group describing themselves as having “no religion”.

Sr Becquart said the Catholic church needed an open dialogue on its history of child abuse, and must include more women to resonate with younger generations. 

“The young people nowadays, they grew up in a world with more gender equality, even if it’s not finished,” she said.

“They want the church to be the church of today.”

On Friday night she spoke at the Parramatta Diocese at St Patrick’s Cathedral, a diocese that has tried to modernise under the leadership of Bishop Vincent Long, who has also shown support for LGBTQI+ communities.

James Camden, who leads the Mission Enhancement Team in the Parramatta Diocese, said his church wants to be open to new ideas and new people. 

“I remember a church that was buzzing with people in the pews,” he said.

“And while it’s not all about that, it would still be nice to have that big sense of community that we used to have. 

“There are places where that is happening, but what we want to help do is build that up in more places across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.”

Church can change

Sr Becquart’s mission to modernise has upset more conservative parts of the Catholic church, but she has the backing of Pope Francis, who recently called on willing Catholic leaders to welcome LGBTQI+  people into their congregations.

She said the church has changed some views in 2,000 years and can change again. 

“For instance, a very concrete example is about the death penalty,” she said.

“There was an understanding that there could be, in some cases, you could have the death penalty.

“Now it’s very clear that for the church, it’s not something coherent with the gospel and we should respect the life of everybody.

“This process of change for the church, it’s not about one part to impose something, it’s about finding a consensus so that everybody is on the move