I actually do support Bishop Porteous' initiative - acknowledgement of the issue and prayers are always a positive thing.
But I can see where the victims are coming from: in the absence of anything else, it does indeed just look like a relatively costless gesture with no real substance behind it.
Where, for example, is the apology for his failure to refer the matter to the police or investigate further from the then bishop of Armidale Bishop Kevin Manning, who is still Apostolic Administrator of Wilcannia-Forbes diocese?
Or from any of the other bishops of the time (those that are still alive that is) involved in shuffling Fr F and other guilty priests between dioceses?
Or from Cardinal Pell, who instead of passing a complaint to the right diocese (and the police) for action, is claimed to have responded to a victim by saying not my jurisdiction, go to the police?
Or for that matter, from any of the three priests who interviewed 'Fr F' back in 1992?
Where are the commitments to public penance by all those involved (including Fr F)?
Where is the official explanation of what would be done differently today?
Where is the explanation of what outreach (if any) has been offered to the victims of Fr F in the light of all of this coming up in the media and stirring up old, bad memories?
The bottom line is that the media management of the abuse issue in Australia continues to be pathetically poor in too many instances.
Tell the bishop!
The sermon I heard on Sunday was a classic example of the under-reaction that seems to characterise the Church on this issue. The sermon was a list of nine ways in which we can be complicit in the sins of others.
And yes, it did manage to mention the Four Corners program (the priest had belatedly watched it the night before). But no more than a mention, on the grounds that priest 'didn't want to scandalize us'. Far, far too late Father - most of us (though apparently not FSSP priests) do, after all, read the newspapers and watch tv news!
Worse, the advice, should we become aware of such cases was to 'tell the bishop', and 'if appropriate' the police.
Right. Because that worked so well for many of the victims.
And priests wonder why Catholics continue to be angry....
The stories keep coming
The Four Corners story has not, of course, been the only Catholic linked abuse case running this week in the media. Nor will it be the last, either in this country or around the world.
Nor is the Church the only institution under attack at the moment for its handling of such cases - consider for example, the case of the Navy. It too is facing the possibility of a Royal Commission.
Personally I'm not that keen on the idea of a Royal Commission - in Ireland, the Inquiry held there, far from leading to healing, seems instead to have unleashed a stream of anti-catholic legislation and other reaction, including an attack of the seal of the confessional, and now a proposal to legalise abortion.
But the Church really does need to get in front of the handling of these cases, and fast.
Already the usual suspects, such as Ms Horin are backing beating the anti-Catholic drum and blaming priestly celibacy as the cause of all evils, even while acknowledging that pretty much all religions and denominations have been affected by the issue...
What can and should be done
So here are some concrete suggestions on things that can and should be done in order to look like it is taking the issue seriously.
1. Have all of those alleged to have failed to act on accusations relating to Fr F - Bishop Manning, and Frs Lucas, Peters and Usher - stand aside from their current positions until the investigations by police and that set up by the Bishop of Armidale are complete.
2. Commission one of the young, vibrant religious orders that still have some credibility (the MGLs or the Franciscans of the Immaculate for example) to set up some fresh, genuine outreach to all of victims of F and others currently in the media, whether cases have gone to court yet or not.
3. Set up an independent, well resourced review of the handling of all abuse cases in Australia, with a view to identifying cases where the action taken so far looks inadequate in the light of current standards, identifying responsibility, and making recommendations on changing procedures where necessary.
4. Instigate a process of public penance (such as fasting) and prayer, individualland collectively, across the Church so that all can acknowledge their guilt and/or help make reparation.
And that includes the bishops and church bureaucrats who shuffled the guilty from parish to parish; all those who failed to uphold the churches teachings on morality; the psychologists and others who offered false hope that the guilty could be 'cured'; the parishioners and others in positions of power who refused that father could be guilty and so protected him; and the parents who failed to go to the police.
5. Put in place a concrete program of reform that addresses the root causes of abuse, as I suggested in a previous post - a program that seeks to restore the value of asceticism, reasserts the churches traditional teaching on morality, and makes a genuine commitment to greater transparency and accountability.