Australian Catholics humiliated by the sins of the Fathers

By Fr Peter Day
Tablet (UK)
June 3, 2015

This past couple of weeks the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has shone yet more light on the terrible abuse committed by church leaders; this time in Ballarat, Victoria. It’s enough to bring a man to his knees.

The public hearings have revealed some gut-wrenching personal accounts: stories of young people (and their families) crippled by sexual abuse; stories of utter betrayal; stories we would rather not hear - stories we must hear.

Indeed, such is the extent of the crisis that in some circles priest and paedophile have become interchangeable words. It is as if we have moved from an unhealthy, “A priest would never do that”, to a just as unhealthy, “He’s a priest, so he probably did do that.”
The following question in a letter in The Weekend Australian epitomises this collapse in trust: “Are there any parents with young children who still take them to church? If so, can they explain why?”
Our collective shame is deep because good people are being condemned by association.
But we must not fall prey to self-pity because, we are not nearly as innocent, or as damaged, as the children who are only now being given a voice.

It behoves us all in the Church, then, to be agents of change and ensure that Christ’s exhortation to “wash feet” is a non-negotiable quality in our church leaders – our shepherds.

And while we should acknowledge that dramatic changes are taking place, we must also acknowledge that too many of our shepherds have acted like the “hired men” in John’s Gospel “who abandon the sheep when they see a wolf coming … leaving the wolves to attack and scatter the sheep.” (Jn 10: 12)

Underpinning this “hired men” culture is a clericalism in which men feel set apart, pursuing the trappings of power and prestige – acting like corporate CEOs hell-bent on protecting the company brand instead of, like shepherds, being willing to lay down their lives (and their reputations) for their sheep.

But the people of God, people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility – that’s what good shepherds do.

Might I suggest, then, that our Pope consider convening an Ecumenical Council of the Church – Vatican III – in which the “hired men” culture is addressed and called to account, victims are afforded a voice, a collective wisdom is given room to breathe and act, and the “feminine genius”, the voice of women, is given a central role.

It is better for a man, for a church, to roam the streets destitute, foraging for the bread of truth, than to roam the corridors of power feasting on privileges and food that does not last. Ours is a profound responsibility: to humbly and gently walk alongside others, especially the most vulnerable, no matter the cost.

That’s what it means to be a truly Catholic Church.


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