The article by Andrew Hamilton argues that the right response includes "...absorbing angry and unfair criticism of yourself and your bosses and not responding to it..."
Sorry, I don't agree.
There are certainly times when you can't defend yourself and doing so would be counter-productive. Suffering silently through unfair criticism is certainly meritorious. So I personally think, for what little that is worth, that the Pope was right to stick to heavenly things over Easter and ignore the media beat-up as much as possible.
But that doesn't mean that no one should speak up and 'defend the boss'. Because the problem is that the Church's authority to speak out is at stake here.
Do our bishops really imagine that their condemnation of Rudd's disgraceful freeze on refugee processing will get any traction with readers in the face of the ongoing attacks on the credibility of the Church for example?
Unfortunately too many of the attempts to defend the Pope have been clumsy and defensive, and have added fuel to the fire rather than damping it down. As Andrew Hamilton's typically backhanded piece points out:
"Bad deportment will persuade people that you didn't get it. If you are defensive, leave it to your lawyers, blame the media, regard the fairness of the way you and your organisation have been treated as the central issue, protest that your organisation is better than many others that have got off lightly, defend the integrity of your masters, and dissociate the organisation from wrongdoers within it, you will convince people that you haven't got it at all. You may have good arguments, particularly about the mistakes made by the media, but you show that you have missed what matters."
What was (and is) needed was a consistent attempt to correct very quickly the factual errors and refute the more egregious claims. That's starting to happen.
But you also need to set out the positive agenda - even if its all been said before. It would be particularly helpful for our bishops (and laity) to be out countering the claims from ex- and current priests that celibacy, the 'failure' to ordain women and the Church's refusal to abandon its moral teachings are at the root of the abuse problem. That's been a lot slower coming.
To acknowledge the problem and quickly clearly set out what has been done to fix it.
Andrew Hamilton's piece goes on to suggest that you need to be ".. making it clear through your words and gestures that the people who are closest to your hearts are those who have been damaged by your organisation, that your highest priority is their flourishing, that you take responsibility for your organisation's deficiencies, and that you are working seriously to identify and remedy its deficiencies to ensure that no one will be damaged in future."
The problem is that really hasn't happened.
The Liberal agenda continues to be sold as the fix, and the real solutions - such as better seminary education, better ongoing support and supervision of priests, a return to the values of prayer and asceticism - have barely had been mentioned. There's a reason for that.
We live in a country where the laity still can't absolutely rely on the validity of the sacraments on offer in Churches calling themselves catholic (think of how long it took to fix the Brisbane baptism problem; consider how many times you've wondered whether the formula of absolution was actually correctly used when you went to confession, or that a sin wasn't really a sin...). Where heresy is still openly preached in many churches.
Hamilton claims that "The Catholic churches in the United States and Australia have generally learned harsh lessons in deportment as the extent of abuse became public. As most of us have to do, Catholic spokespersons have learned from their mistakes. And the churches are generally safer, more modest and better places for the learning. Current evidence suggests that the European churches are still learning under fire...." That strikes me as a hopelessly optimistic assessment of the state of things in Australia.
Personally, I'd like to see our bishops commit to a program like that the Pope has set out for Ireland, including:
- a mission to priests and religious including study of recent papal teaching and a fresh look at Vatican II's actual teachings in the light of a hermaneutic of continuity;
- a renewed emphasis on Adoration; and
- something we can all do now ourselves, offering of our Friday penances for those who have been abused. Remember to do it tomorrow...