Time for 'Catholic spring' and Vatican III: bishop

By Barney Zwartz
The Age
June 1, 2013

Retired Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.
Retired Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. 
Photo: Ben Rushton

The bishop who designed Australia's Catholic clergy sex abuse response wants a ''Catholic spring'', a people-power movement to force the Vatican to tackle the abuse crisis at its source.

Retired Sydney bishop Geoffrey Robinson has launched a petition for ordinary Catholics to seek another global church council like the 1960s reforming Vatican II council. But at ''Vatican III'', he says, there must be as many lay people as bishops to make sure the hard questions get asked.

He believes that only a ''Catholic spring'' like the revolutions that ended the Marcos regime in the Philippines, totalitarian governments in the Arab world and communism in eastern Europe will move the Vatican to make the changes that are needed.

Bishop Robinson, 75, was the architect of the Towards Healing protocol introduced in every diocese except Melbourne in 1996. Abused as a child, he headed the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference professional standards committee for a decade until he retired in 2004 because he was so disillusioned.

On Tuesday, his new book For Christ's Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church … for Good, will be launched in an inner-Sydney church. The petition, at, was opened in Australia a fortnight ago without any publicity, and already has more than 10,000 signatures. Backed by two other progressive Australian bishops, the recently retired Pat Power of Canberra and Bill Morris of Toowoomba, it will be launched in Europe and the US soon.

The book is about the powerful cultural factors that block the church from attacking the causes of abuse, rather than merely responding afterwards. Bishop Robinson believes the church is still trying to ''manage'' the problem rather than confront it.

''Ultimately the only way to deal with abuse is prevent it. Once it's happened, anything you do is second-rate - you can't cure it or restore people to the way they were before,'' Bishop Robinson said.

The biggest obstacles he identifies are papal infallibility, obligatory celibacy, the professional priestly caste, the absence of the feminine throughout the church, and an immature morality based on authority rather than people taking responsibility.

No pope had ever called for a study of the causes because it would raise questions on practices and teachings in which much papal prestige had been invested, Bishop Robinson said. Protecting papal authority has been seen as more important than preventing abuse.

''A major reason why the revulsion against the Catholic Church over abuse has been so great is precisely that for centuries the church presented itself as the great and infallible moral guide that could tell everyone else what to do and threaten eternal punishment for anyone who did not bow down and obey,'' he writes in the new book. ''And now this church - which so vaunted its own perfection - has been shown to have a rottenness at its core. When the school bully is exposed, the whole school rejoices.''

Bishop Robinson does not condemn celibacy, but says it must be freely chosen. Imposed, it can create conditions that lead to abuse. Similarly, the absence of women's influence in the church has damaged it in many ways, he writes.

Bishop Robinson said the election of Francis as Pope in March had restored hope he had lost under Benedict XVI and certainly John Paul II.

''He's a new Pope, speaking a different language, and has done a lot of very good things. He has said that among the poor and injured, sex-abuse victims must have a special place. But he has not yet faced many of the really hard questions of which [the sex abuse crisis] is top of the list.''

The book has detailed suggestions of how Vatican III might work, and what it should consider.
















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