Yesterday in his General Audience the Pope reflected on his trip to Malta, and the emotional meeting he had with victims. In the press its being reported as the Pope (finally) speaking out on the subject (ignoring his Letter to Ireland, calls for penance and more). And the Australian bishops' conference apparently agrees with the secular take on the issue, courtesy of ABC Radio's AM program:
"TONY EASTLEY: For the first time [well actually no. He first spoke about it immediately before his election; he has touched on it numerous times since, spoke directly before and during his trip to Malta] Pope Benedict has spoken publicly on the predator priest sex abuse scandal embroiling the Catholic Church.
The Pope says he shares the victims' suffering and will implement effective measures to protect children. Leaders in the Australian Catholic Church say his acknowledgement is overdue but say it's better late than never. [How supportive! There are enough people out there already critiquing the way the Vatican has responded or not to this crisis. Whether or not we agree with them, its unhelpful to feed this. And anyway, let's be clear. responsibility for what priests do and don't do, how they are assigned and disciplined rests first and foremost with bishops, not the Pope. The Pope is taking the fall - as a good leader often does - for what has happened below him.]
BRONWYN HERBERT: Each week in St Peter's Square Pope Benedict speaks to thousands of pilgrims and visitors to the Vatican.
But his latest address was the Pontiff's first public uttering acknowledging the Church's involvement in child sexual abuse.
POPE BENEDICT XVI (translated): I wanted to meet some people who were victims of abuse by members of the clergy. I shared with them their suffering and with emotion I prayed with them, promising them action on the part of the church.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Over the weekend, Pope Benedict met with eight men in Malta who say they were molested by priests at local orphanage. Victim groups have been calling on the Pope to acknowledge the issue directly instead of using vague references.
Australian Catholic bishops acknowledge the Pope's public address is overdue.
BRIAN LUCAS: There's been criticism from a number of quarters, including from very senior church personnel, that the Vatican, particularly at the bureaucratic level, hasn't been as responsive to this question internationally as it ought to be. I think it's now very timely and important that the Pope make the explicit statements that he's made.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Father Brian Lucas is the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
(to Brian Lucas) Do you think it's all come a little bit too late for the church?
BRIAN LUCAS: Better that the issue be confronted and dealt with. Yes in hindsight, it would have perhaps been helpful for comments like this to have been made at a much earlier point in time.[So where was the statement from the bishops when this issue first broke?]
BRONWYN HERBERT: The sexual abuse crisis has exploded in recent months and the Pope in his public address promised direct action.
But Father Lucas says in Australia, despite ongoing scandal still being heard in the courts, he's confident child protection policies are adequate.
BRIAN LUCAS: I think Australia has been very much ahead of this issue. From the late 1980s the Australian bishops had in place protocols to deal with these matters. That's well known and publicised in our document Towards Healing, that's very available publicly on the bishops' conference website.
The Australian child protection regime would be a model many other countries could usefully follow.[Complacency. It's true that there are strict child protection protocols in place. But that isn't the real issue. The real issue is whether training, attitudes and supervision of priests, not to mention management practices of bishops, are adequate. That's a much more questionable proposition. There are too many recent cases - such as the Newcastle and Toowomba ones, that suggest there is still a long way to go.]
BRONWYN HERBERT: But despite Father Lucas' assertions, a spokesman for the Archbishop of Melbourne has confirmed the church is in discussions with police to change the way it investigates sex abuse claims.
A spokesman for the Archbishop told AM that only one priest has been defrocked since 1996 despite almost 300 sexual abuse claims being substantiated. [Wow, that's a pretty extraordinary statistic. It requires a lot of explaining.]
The victim support group Broken Rites says the church has for too long regarded sex abuse as a sin and not a crime.[And more to the point, not a very serious sin.]"
So what should the bishops have said?
A better response might have been to acknowledge and point to the Pope's earlier call to penance, and perhaps announced some appropriate gesture for Australia (I'm intrigued by the call for bishops and clergy to do public penance being debated in some US blogs); to the clear message in the 2001 guidelines that cases must be reported to the civil authorities; to point ot the Pope's clear record of tackling these difficult issues head on.
To state (or restate) clearly just what the Australian bishops' record is. How many cases have they in fact referred to the police? How many priests have been removed from ministery and/or laicized in response to credible claims?
Instead yesterday's Canberra Times was graced with yet another whingeing liberal article (unfortunately not available online) continuing the attack from within this time from Bishop Patrick Power (Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn) repeating (albeit in veiled form) his previous calls for women to be ordained, for an end to 'authoritarian' structures, compulsory celibacy and much more as a response to the crisis.
Bishop Power calls for the voices of the faithful, especially of women to be heard. I suspect he doesn't mean voices like mine, however, who actually want a return to orthodoxy, orthopraxis, plus some more accountability and transparency. Nonetheless, hear my voice Bishop Power. I'd suggest some serious meditation on the texts for last week's mass in the EF about the good sheppard vs the hireling (Jn 10:11-16).
This is a time when all of our bishops - all catholics in fact - need to unite behind the Pope and act on the program he has set out - or if in all conscience they can't, they need to get out.