Retiring journalist Mark Bowling reflects on a turbulent decade reporting for the Church

The Catholic Leader [Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia]

April 19, 2024

By Mark Bowling

IN a wooden chest of draws at home, I keep copies of The Catholic Leader.

Over the last decade, I’ve accumulated deep piles of the newspaper that report and reflect on one of the most testing of times for the Church.

Some could argue the last decade has been one of crisis for Catholics.

The fallout of a royal commission into child sexual abuse topped the list of headlines as I thumbed through old copies of the paper.

One of my first stories was a review of the film Spotlight.

The 2015 Academy Award winning biopic told the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic archdiocese, shaking the entire Church to its core.

In a similar way Australia’s royal commission into institutional abuse shone a harsh light on a hierarchical Church structure that had protected paedophile priests by moving them from one parish to another and allowed abuse to remain unreported and unresolved for survivors.

I can say first hand that public hearings reported in The Catholic Leader proved difficult and challenging for both for the victims of sexual abuse and for the Church faithful.

The royal commission succeeded in shifting Church responses to abuse – and the Catholic Leader has reported on major safeguarding measures put in place across all dioceses in Queensland and Australia, including protocols aimed at preventing abuse, protecting the young and vulnerable, and promoting a safer culture.

The way forward

This last decade, I’ve witnessed Queensland Catholics caught up in many currents of change.

We’ve been forced to decide where we stand on key matters of life, death, and even marriage.

Queensland Church leaders lobbied against abortion being legalised, and against the introduction of euthanasia.

In defence of protecting life, Brisbane Archbishop, Mark Coleridge wrote in The Catholic Leader in April 2021: “a truly human society knows love is stronger than death.”

“What kind of society do I want to live in? A society that values every person no matter what their condition; a society that cares deeply for the vulnerable; a society that accompanies those who suffer; a society that says to every person, ‘Your life is worth living. You are always a gift’.

“Only a society where love has been sidelined could accept that someone’s life is not worth living and provide the means to end it.”

The future

In the last decade, we’ve witnessed the Church community dwindle in numbers.

We can blame a loss of trust due to the sexual abuse crisis, a lack of priests and a fall in seminary intakes, but none of this should distract from the miracle of faith open to all of us.

The Catholic Leader continues to uncover stories that offer hope in the world. Where there is hope there is life.

Among the stories I’ve written in this past decade, many have involved the hope and dignity of refugees and asylum seekers – often in the face of rejection, pain and suffering.

In some ways their stories joyously bear witness to a new heart of the Church, as our Catholic community supports their arrival as newcomers and outsiders.

Their stories can help us understand our own faith journeys, and especially at Easter remind us of the Pascal Mystery at the centre of our faith – the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.